The jury needed little time Friday to convict the Midlands men who called themselves the 3 Hebrew Boys for running a debt-relief ministry that turned out to be an $82 million Ponzi scheme.
The seven women and five men saw through the lies of Joseph Brunson, Tim McQueen and Tony Pough, one of the jurors said after the trio was convicted on 58 counts of mail fraud, money laundering and transporting stolen goods.
After two weeks of testimony, the jury reached a verdict in less than three hours.
"You don't use God if you're going to defraud people," said a juror who declined to give her name. "They never were helping people. They were just helping themselves."
The jury also ordered the 3 Hebrew Boys to repay $82 million. The men showed no emotion as the clerk read the word "guilty" 174 times. They face up to 30 years in prison when sentenced early next year.
The men called themselves the "3 Hebrew Boys" after the biblical tale of men who survived an inferno because of their faith.
Since 2004, the men had lured at least 7,000 investors from two dozen states, including many from military bases and churches, with promises to help pay off debt at a fraction of its cost. They also offered monthly lifetime residuals on investments.
They claimed to earn money from investing in foreign exchange markets using secrets known only to banks.
Their presentations banned attendance from anyone working in law enforcement, government agencies or the media. Investors had to sign a confidentiality agreement with a $1 million penalty for violating it.
Authorities said less than $100,000 was ever invested in foreign exchange markets - and that money was lost.
By the time they were arrested in 2007, the 3 Hebrew Boys would have had to pay investors more than $1 billion over the next two years and had just $17 million in bank accounts.
Winston Holliday, who helped prosecute the case for the government, said the scheme was attractive because it used an investment few understand - foreign exchange markets - and gave early investors big returns.
"It was exotic," he said. "People might have been skeptical, but that didn't matter after they saw the results. Once the money started to flow, people figured they had to join or get left behind."
The scheme also was helped by sales representatives who spread the word about the 3 Hebrew Boys' programs to worshippers at their churches and troops under their command, even in Iraq.
"They were trusted, so it must be good," Holliday said.
Even on the trial's last day, the 3 Hebrew Boys continued to argue their prosecution was unjust.
Without the knowledge of their court-appointed attorneys, they submitted a court filing Friday that accused Walt Wilkins, the U.S. attorney in South Carolina, of treason and committing an act of war against them.
The men have argued federal law does not apply to them because they are descendants of people who lived in the country before the colonists arrived.
U.S. District Judge Margaret Seymour revoked their bail and ordered them into custody after their convictions. The men handed over necklaces, rings, watches, money and wallets to family members before being escorted out of the courtroom.
At one point after the verdict was read, Brunson, pastor at a Northeast Richland church, turned to the gallery of friends and family and whispered: "Don't walk by what you see. Walk by what you know."
"I'm completely shocked because of the complete and total injustice," Brunson's wife, Isolde, said while leaving the courtroom.
Some 3 Hebrew Boys "depositors" - as they were called - did get returns on their investments that, in some cases, paid off mortgages, credit cards and cars. They received about $23 million.
But the men also spent about $25 million on a home near Walt Disney World, three Atlanta condos, three luxury stadium boxes in Charlotte and Atlanta, more than 20 cars, eight lots at a Northeast Richland subdivision, 20 acres of Orangeburg County land, a $1 million motor coach, and a $5 million personal jet.
Their court-appointed defense attorneys argued the trio planned to use all those purchases to raise money for their debt-relief programs. Their attorneys would not say Friday whether they planned an appeal.
The case came to light in 2007 when state authorities seized $17 million in cash from bank accounts tied to the 3 Hebrew Boys. The men also face state charges of securities fraud, failure to file state income tax returns and selling unregistered securities.
A federal court-appointed receiver is trying to sell the assets to repay investors. Claim forms could be available in a few weeks, the receiver said.
However, at least seven cars bought by the 3 Hebrew Boys are still missing, including two Mercedes roadsters valued at more than $330,000, authorities said.
The case was investigated by agents of the FBI, IRS, and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service. FBI special agent Ron Grosse pored over 14,000 pages of documents, Holliday said.
"We have been living this case for two years," he said. "We're glad to get complete justice."