HOUSTON – Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell pleaded not guilty Thursday to accusations that he and another man defrauded investors of $3.4 million.
Caldwell will remain free on an unsecured $250,000 bond. A federal judge in Shreveport, Louisiana, made the ruling at a hearing that lasted 16 minutes Thursday afternoon.
Caldwell, senior pastor at Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, and Gregory Alan Smith, a former broker and financial planner, are facing nine violations from the Securities and Exchange Commission out of Louisiana.
The judge reminded Caldwell and Smith of their rights. Both pleaded not guilty.
Caldwell and Smith surrendered their passports. They agreed to appear in court and not to travel internationally. They were ordered not to have any contact with victims in the case.
"We're looking forward to our day in court, when we can actually go forward and present our defense," Caldwell's attorney Dan Cogdell said Thursday. "We believe in our hearts and in our souls that the jury is going to do the right thing at the end of this trail and acquit Pastor Caldwell of all charges."
According to court documents, Caldwell and Smith duped at least 29 people into buying Chinese bonds that had no value for a total of $3.4 million between April 2013 and August 2014.
The pair told investors that the historical Chinese bonds, which reportedly have been in default since 1939 and aren't recognized by the current Chinese government, could provide exorbitant, risk-free returns on their investments and that the bonds would be sold by Caldwell to a third party or redeemed by the Chinese government, court documents state.
Prosecutors said they expect 100,000 pages of information to be shared as part of the discovery phase. That information is expected to include third party financial information.
The next step in the case is expected June 27 when the judge and the attorneys involved will hold a status conference.
The motion for deadlines in the case is July 6.
Caldwell used part of his Easter sermon to reiterate his innocence
“As you know, I’ve been in the news lately," Caldwell said with a chuckle to his congregation April 1 "And not to take it lightly. I respect the authorities.”
He said he has proof that the bonds are legitimate and refunds have been given to any investor who asked for one.
“When you’re on your way to a promised land, sometimes you have a painful pit stop, and this is just that – a pit stop,” Caldwell said, as the church cheered.
Caldwell said there was one accusation that bothered him more than the others.
“The one that, frankly, perturbs me most is the (accusation) that I took advantage of people,” Caldwell said. “I’ve spent 36 years helping people, not hurting people.”
Caldwell ended his message by thanking the congregation for its support and he asked for continued prayers for his family.