An Overland Park man was sentenced Tuesday to nearly 20 years in federal prison for defrauding hundreds of investors out of almost $16 million.
Ephren Taylor II, 32, pleaded guilty last fall to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
In addition to the sentence of 19 years and seven months, a judge in Atlanta sentenced Taylor to three years of supervised release following prison and ordered him to pay $15.6 million in restitution to scam victims.
The son of a Johnson County preacher, Taylor targeted African-American churchgoers, bilking more than 400 victims. Many lost their entire life savings, according to federal authorities who prosecuted the case.
Never miss a local story.
“At churches across the country, he touted himself as a socially conscious investor,” John Horn, the acting U.S. attorney in Atlanta, said in a statement Tuesday, “but his investment opportunities were nothing but a Ponzi scheme designed to build his own personal wealth. This sentencing brings a measure of justice to those who remain devastated by his actions.”
An accomplice, Wendy Connor, was sentenced to five years in prison followed by three years of supervised release and was ordered to pay $5.8 million in restitution. She earlier pleaded guilty to one count of transportation of money taken by fraud.
None of the money was recovered, much of it being spent supporting Taylor’s lavish lifestyle, authorities said.
Taylor was the chief executive officer and Connor the chief operating officer of City Capital Corp., whose sole purpose, the government alleged, was to defraud investors.
Taylor, who also went by the name Ephren Taylor Jr., claimed that 20 percent of his investments’ profits went to charity. But that was a lie, authorities said.
Taylor’s sales pitch emphasized his own early success. He said he became rich enough to retire while a teenager.
The basis for that lie was publicity that he and a classmate received after starting a website while students at Blue Valley North High School.
GoFerretGo.com paired job-seeking teens with employers. While neither he nor his partner got rich from that website, Taylor claimed otherwise.
He wrote books about his phony success story and touted himself as the youngest African-American CEO in the country. Some media outlets bought the story. He appeared on national TV and spoke at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
A 2012 profile of Taylor in The Kansas City Star reported that some of his earliest business ventures were in the Kansas City area. He once owned a large piece of land south of Kansas City’s jazz district and said he planned to build housing there. But it never happened, and the land remains undeveloped.
Another federal court issued a nearly $12 million judgment against him in 2013 after the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Taylor of running “a Ponzi scheme to swindle more than $11 million, primarily from African-American churchgoers.”