A Shreveport financial planner and the pastor of a Houston megachurch were arraigned in federal court today on financial crime charges.
Although Gregory A. Smith of Shreveport, and Kirbyjon Caldwell of Houston waived reading the formal charges of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, six counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and three counts of money laundering and pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Caldwell, who arrived with an entourage that included his wife, Suzette, along with family and lawyers, appeared tired, with his charcoal suit jacket thrown over his right shoulder as he entered the U.S. District Court in Shreveport after the four-hours-and-change drive from Houston.
Inside the Courthouse, however, the jacket immediately went back on, and, complemented by his light blue dress shirt, fuchsia tie and matching pocket square, Caldwell again looked like the man who the country came to know as President George W. Bush’s spiritual advisor who gave the benediction at both Bush’s inaugurations, and married Jenna Bush and Henry Hager in May 2008.
Smith, arrived several minutes after Caldwell, accompanied only by two attorneys. Tall, tanned and appearing confident, Smith was dressed in a gray suit and crisp white shirt and tie.
The courtroom was filled with local and Houston media, as well as an assortment of attorneys, prosecutors, and even victims of the alleged crimes.
Although neither the defendants nor their attorneys spoke to each other, they spoke to the federal Magistrate Mark L. Hornsby when asked questions.
Unless regulations are broke, both men will remain free until their cases wind their ways through the court, and although neither were awarded ankle bracelets from the U.S. Department of Justice’s jewelry collection today, they both were released on $250,000 appearance bonds, meaning no money exchanged hands.
As a condition of those bonds, Smith and Caldwell had to promise they’d show up for court dates, however, and won’t be going on cruises any time soon, because as part of their release requirements included turning over their passports or any other international identification they might have. Both men surrendered their passports to the court during the proceedings.
The indictment claims that Smith, as operator and manager of Smith Financial Group LLC in Shreveport, and Caldwell, as pastor of Houston’s 16,000-member Windsor Village Methodist Church, used his influence and status to lure investors to pay more than $1 million to invest in Historical Chinese bonds.
These bonds were issued by the former Republic of China prior to losing power to the communist government in 1949. They are not recognized by China’s current government and have no investment value.
According to prosecutors, Smith and Caldwell promised high rates of return, sometimes three to 15 times the value of the investments. Instead of investing the funds, the indictment claims the defendants used them to pay personal loans, credit card balances, mortgages, vehicle purchases and other personal expenses.
Following the court appearances, Caldwell’s attorney, Dan Cogdell told reporters outside he was confident his client will be acquitted after Caldwell’s side of the story comes out in court.
A status conference was scheduled for Wednesday, June 27, and out-of-town attorneys will attend via conference call.