The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld a 54-year sentence for a 67-year-old former pastor convicted of pocketing millions of dollars that investors believed would be used to build churches.
The court denied Vaughn Reeves' appeal Monday. He was convicted in October of nine counts of securities fraud.
Reeves had argued his sentence was too harsh. But the three-judge panel noted that Special Judge Dena Martin found Reeves defrauded about 2,900 people of more than $13 million, and that many of those people lost their entire retirement savings.
Reeves' three sons also were convicted on securities fraud charges involving the family's shuttered Sullivan-based church-bond company, Alanar.
Among aggravating factors, Martin also found Reeves targeted people over age 65 and used religion to influence them.
Alanar used a modified Ponzi scheme in which it diverted investors' money from building projects to speculative investments and to interest payments on other bonds, according to the Indiana Secretary of State's Office, whose Securities Division assisted prosecutors in the case.
Alanar encouraged church members to sell the bonds to fellow congregants using sales pitches that included prayers and Bible passages.
"Never sell the facts, sell warm stewardship and the Lord," Alanar training materials said.
Reeves' attorney's office did not answer phone calls seeking comment about thr appeal.
Reeves' sons, Joshua, Chris and Chip, reached plea bargains and received sentences ranging from six to 24 years.
The four men were arrested in mid-2009.