Michael Winans Jr. portrayed himself as a good Christian man who wanted to help churchgoers double their money in just two months.
But Michigan victims of his $8-million fraud scheme say the member of a noted gospel music family was a liar who ruined their lives with a bond scam that tore apart marriages, destroyed college plans, and wiped out the life savings of senior citizens and young students alike.
He was a “Silver Tongue Con-man,” wrote one victim in court papers.
On Wednesday, the 30-year-old music producer from Maryland was sentenced to 13 years and 9 months in prison by a federal judge in Detroit on wire fraud charges that say he stole millions from more than 1,200 investors. U.S. District Judge Sean Cox also ordered Winans to pay $4.8 million in restitution to his victims.
Winans took advantage of “good, decent, churchgoing people,” Cox said, before sentencing him. “That is very, very troubling to me … You used … churches to perpetuate this fraud.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Abed Hammoud said that Winans was a Grammy nominee who “used religion … the church, the good reputation of the family” to rob victims, many of whom are metro Detroiters.
Winans pleaded guilty in October to wire fraud in a scheme he devised in Michigan. Prosecutors said in court filings that “he clearly abused the fact that he came from a very well-known family with a good reputation in order to induce people to invest with him.”
Dressed in a gray suit, Winans acknowledged in court Wednesday that “I did make mistakes” and that he caused “financial and emotional damage.”
“For that I repent,” Winans told the judge.
But, he said, there was no “malicious intent on my part … I wanted people to have a good life.”
His attorney, William Hatchett, said Winans “is extremely remorseful.”
Winans led “investors … to believe they were investing in Saudi Arabian crude oil bonds that (he) well knew did not exist,” said the sentencing memo of Hammoud. “Winans … guaranteed the victim investors that the bonds would yield returns of approximately 100% of the principal within 60 days.”
Winans is the grandson of David (Pop) Winans Sr. and the nephew of Marvin Winans, the pastor of Perfecting Church in Detroit, who is known nationally for his gospel music. Marvin Winans, who gave the eulogy last year at Whitney Houston’s funeral, was in the courtroom Wednesday but didn’t comment.
At the sentencing, there also were several victims of the pyramid scheme, some of whom broke down crying.
In many cases, people fooled by Winans convinced loved ones to give money. Some lost their homes, their college tuition money, and the trust of people close to them.
“We’ve experience turmoil,” Tina Hurt, one of his victims, said in court Wednesday. Calvin Jackson Jr., another victim, said there were “so many death threats to my life” from people who wanted their money back.
“I trusted him.”
Despite the transgressions, Jackson said: “I have to forgive him. I feel so bad for him. I feel so bad for us.”