By Mike McPhee Denver Post Staff Writer
Jan. 13 - A silver-tongued minister who conned his way into his congregation's bedrooms and bank accounts was brought to justice last week in U.S. District Court, where he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud.
Richard J. Panyard, who led the Way International Ministry in Boulder, faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for conning his flock out of more than $700,000. The money virtually vanished in bad business deals, liquor, sexual relationships with his followers and the support of a Christian rock band.
Beginning in 1982, Panyard, who was 30 at the time, gathered about 50 Followers of the Way, a home-based teaching ministry that initially set up in an abandoned warehouse in Boulder.
In 1987, according to documents from the U.S. attorney's office in Denver, Panyard founded Pros International, a consortium of businesses that included ProSteel, a steel brokerage company, as well as a real estate company that attempted to develop land in Fort Collins and Grand Junction.
Pros International was funded primarily by contributions from Panyard's followers, as well as by a small number of loans from investors. Two members of Followers of the Way, Charles Mandry... helped Panyard start the firm and served as vice president and secretary-treasurer, respectively. Mandry had extensive experience as a steel broker and was the principal in ProSteel.
The company stumbled along for two years until April 1989, when "the company turned from a struggling business to a scheme to defraud," according to court documents.
Panyard began what was described as a Ponzi scheme, in which he paid off debts with new contributions. His company never developed sufficient revenue to earn a profit, yet the books and the firm's credit remained good because of new infusions of cash, according to the documents.
In December 1990, Pros International literature listed investments of $375,000, yet it had none, according to the U.S. attorney's office. Pros International also claimed an income of $1.42 million from "service revenues," yet it had no income, according to court documents. And it also claimed profits of "70 to 80 percent" on its real estate investments when, in fact, it lost $22,000, or 10 percent of its investment, on a house it built in Fort Collins.
Panyard, a keyboardist, also founded "The Rock Band," in which he played. The band was supported by contributions from the Way.
Court documents revealed that during the same period, Panyard drank "excessive" amounts of alcoholic beverages.
Panyard also developed sexual relationships with up to six of his female followers, including Charles Mandry's former wife, Kia Mandry, who served as the company's office manager and bookkeeper, court documents stated.
Followers said the true figure was closer to a dozen women whom he slept with, excluding his wife. In fact, it was those relationships that partially motivated Panyard to continue the fraud, according to government pleadings in the case, which were written by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Haried and Sunhee Juhon.
They wrote that Panyard attempted to develop a cult relationship around him. "To do that, he needed to maintain his position of authority and power as a leader of their religious community and of a successful business," the pleadings stated.
"If Pros International went down the tube, ... so would Panyard's relationships. Thus, believing it was going down, ... he committed fraud," according to the government lawyers.
One of the female followers, who claims not to have slept with Panyard but is listed in court documents as one of his sexual partners, said she was very surprised that Panyard paid her back all of her investment, which was relatively small.
Yet court documents state that Panyard's motivation for the fraud, to a great degree, came from his need to pay back the women he was sleeping with so that they would continue sleeping with him. To do that, he took new contributions and gave them to the women instead of investing them.
"The way I saw it, for anyone who is hungry for power, there are certain things that go along with it, particularly for men who are very driven," said the woman, 35, who didn't want to be identified. "This drive for power is always accompanied by other desires; for lust, drinking, adultery. Those ... activities all run together. "I don't think he put himself in that position just to have women. His primary motivation was to have power, to be 'The Dude,' to be worshiped and to have money. It was a major ego deal."
Mandry and... Panyard's partners, pleaded guilty to fraud earlier this year in exchange for lighter sentences that excluded jail time. Panyard, who now lives in Ninevah, Ind., is scheduled for sentencing March 17.
by Mike McPhee
A former minister of the cult religion The Way International was sentenced to prison Tuesday in U.S. District Court and ordered to pay restitution of more than $500,000 to his former followers after he admitted he had bilked them of their money, in some cases their life savings.
Richard J. Panyard, 45, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison and three years' probation and ordered to repay more than 20 of his followers a total of $528,000.
(ARTICLE GOES ON TO DESCRIBE THE DAY OF THE SENTENCING, WITH COMMENTS BY JUDGE LEWIS T. BABCOCK)
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