(Scroll down for video) A thief was ordered to repay consumers after posing as a priest and collecting money in exchange for prayers, the Washington State Attorney General said.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced that his office has put a stop to the deceptive business practices of the man of Seattle, and he will have to pay back as much as $7.75 million to approximately 165,000 consumers nationwide.
Benjamin Rogovy used systematic deception in the running of his for-profit company, Christian Prayer Center, including the creation of fake religious leaders and posting false testimonials to entice consumers to pay for prayers.
In a separate business, Rogovy used deceptive and unfair business practices to run the Consumer Complaint Agency, a for-profit business that promised consumers it would advocate on their behalf regarding their complaints against businesses.
Instead, the company charged consumers up to $25 for doing no more than passively forwarding complaints.
Rogovy’s actions violate the state Consumer Protection Act, which forbids businesses from making false claims, and the Charitable Solicitations Act, which prohibits churches and charities from using misleading or deceptive statements in any charitable solicitation.
“I believe in the power of prayer,” said Ferguson. “What I do not believe in and what I will not tolerate is unlawful businesses that prey upon people, taking advantage of their faith or their need for help, in order to make a quick buck.”
The Christian Prayer Center (CPC) offered prayers for $9 to $35 in English through the website christianprayercenter.com, and in Spanish through the websiteoracioncristiana.org. Both websites were recently shut down.
Rogovy and the CPC created fake religious leaders and posted false testimonials in order to attract consumers. The CPC claimed that “Pastor John Carlson” solely ran the sites.
It would send weekly inspirational emails to consumers under the pastor’s name, and even created a fake LinkedIn profile that described the Pastor’s experience as “Senior Pastor, Christian Prayer Center, January 2009 — present.”
CPC also used the name “Pastor Eric Johnston” to sign consumer correspondence. Neither of these people exist.
CPC also stated: “One of our pastors is also happy to assist with any religious ceremonies.” This statement gave the impression that CPC had multiple pastors who regularly consulted on religious issues.
In fact, it had none. Rather, the websites were a for-profit corporation with multiple employees and independent contractors.
The deception didn’t stop there. The websites contained fictitious testimonials from consumers using stock photos that claimed they successfully prayed to avoid home foreclosure, deliver a healthy baby, win the lottery, obtain negative results on an HIV test and put cancer into remission.