HAMILTON - A warrant has been issued for the arrest of two Hamilton pastors accused of theft, fraud and conspiracy following a yearlong investigation.
District Judge James Haynes issued bench warrants Tuesday for Harris Himes and James "Jeb" Bryant after attorneys with the state Office of the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance filed charges against the pastors.
The men stand accused of six felony charges, including theft, fraudulent practices and conspiracy to commit the same.
According to court records, a local man, ultimately the alleged victim, learned in December 2007 that he would receive a large inheritance. He told Himes, a pastor at Big Sky Christian Center, that he would like to invest in something that would provide enough income to allow him to do ministry work full time.
The victim said Himes and Bryant claimed to be partners in Duratherm Building Systems, a company which allegedly manufactured structural insulated panels. Himes told the victim he would receive a good return on any investment, according to court records.
The state investigation later revealed that the company is not registered as an investment property with the CSI.
In March 2008, Bryant gave a sales pitch to the victim, saying the company could buy its last piece of equipment, a glue machine, if it could just raise $150,000. Bryant and Himes allegedly told the victim he would receive a 20 percent minimum return for two years, with a 5 percent ownership and other perks, such as use of a beach house in Mexico, for a longer-term investment.
Investigators acquired subsequent emails between the victim and the pastors that included further promises and instructions on where to wire the money.
Himes allegedly told the victim to create a personal corporation in order to wire the money, which the victim did in May 2008. In June, as instructed, the victim wired $150,000 to Harris Bank in Chicago on behalf of Monarch Beach Properties.
The victim was told Monarch Beach Properties was "a type of parent corporation," but investigations revealed the wiring instructions went to an apartment complex in Maryland while the Harris Bank records show the mailing address as a Hamilton post office box. Monarch Beach Properties is not registered in Maryland.
The victim said he never received a statement of ownership in the panel company, a prospectus or a receipt of his purchase. He never received any monetary returns, according to court records.
In July 2008, the victim met Bryant in Texas to help with transportation across the Mexican border. One month after arriving in Texas, they traveled to Mexico to a site where the panel company supposedly planned to build a factory. It turned out to be an empty building that was not owned by the company or the two pastors, according to court papers.
The victim claimed Bryant left him in Mexico soon thereafter, and the victim returned to Texas alone.
The victim requested that Himes and Bryant buy him out of the company but they haven't, even though the two said they'd help him sell his share. They stopped returning his calls a year ago. The victim then filed a complaint with the state and an investigation began.
The CSI requisitioned bank statements, confirming the victim sent $150,000. The money went to the accounts of Himes, Bryant, and to pay off a Monarch Beach Properties credit card that lists both Himes and Bryant as signers. None of the money went to Duratherm Building Systems, according to court records.
CSI attorney Brett O'Neil filed the charges from Helena after the investigation also revealed that neither Himes nor Bryant are registered to sell securities in Montana.
Reach reporter Laura Lundquist at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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