A hush fell over the Union County courtroom Monday as Cauzae McCall stood, clasped his hands in front of him and turned to two of his victims.
“I am deeply sorry for how things worked out,” he told the men, a church member and a pastor. “It was never my intention to deprive the church of its money.”
Minutes earlier, McCall pleaded guilty to felony charges of bilking from a Monroe church and its leaders about $250,000 in an investment fraud scheme.
Superior Court Judge Chris Collier sentenced him to a minimum five years in prison and ordered him to pay back the money.
McCall, 43, turned himself in to Union authorities in April, a month after state investigators seized documents, receipts, computers, a BlackBerry and bank statements from his $1.13 million home in the Providence Plantation subdivision in south Charlotte. He's been in jail since.
According to prosecutors and court documents, McCall used his background as a pastor, lawyer and successful trader to win the trust of Elizabeth Missionary Baptist Church and its leaders. Between July 2005 and February 2006, the church turned over $200,000 to McCall.
Its pastor, the Rev. Osco E. Gardin Jr., who first met McCall at a Baptist convention in 2005 in Charlotte, and a second man, a church member, invested an additional $25,000 each.
Although McCall promised an 18 percent return, the men haven't gotten any money back, and the church has received only $3,750, prosecutors said.
They said McCall's bank statements show he used the investments for personal items and entertainment, rattling off a list of the places he'd spent it, including restaurants Applebee's and Bertucci's and phone carrier Alltel.
Authorities and former investors have said McCall, an eloquent man with Wall Street connections and an Ivy League pedigree, used religious bonds and friendships with area preachers to convince people to invest with him and his company, MBG Global.
The tactics, they said, fit the description of affinity fraud, where a person preys on members of identifiable groups, such as church communities, a growing problem nationwide.
Court documents say McCall has been connected to at least one other Charlotte-area church, and Mecklenburg County prosecutor Steve Ward said Monday that similar charges would be filed in Mecklenburg soon.
In court Monday, Gardin, dressed sharply in a dark suit and red tie, told the court he was disappointed he lost his money but grateful that justice had been served.
He turned to McCall and said quietly, “May heaven help you.”
It's unclear what McCall, who moved to Charlotte a few years ago from Connecticut, did with the money from the church and individuals. Prosecutors said he traded just a small percentage and used the rest for his living expenses and even to pay others he owed. McCall's lawyer, Brian Cromwell, said McCall planned to invest and grow the money but simply fell behind.
Cromwell painted a far less sinister picture of his client than prosecutors, too, saying he was an honest man who relied on his talent as a trader and failed.
He's a good father to three school-aged children, the attorney said. And he's a deeply religious man who worked with inmates at a Connecticut church and coached its basketball team.
McCall, a thin man with close-cropped hair and a graying goatee, dressed in a black shirt and designer jeans Monday, said he understood how important a church's money is and didn't mean to lose it.
“As the efforts to build the money began to fall behind, it created a snowball,” he said.
McCall apologized to his victims and the state and offered “my most profound apology to my wife and my children, who have been deprived now of a dad and husband,” he said, his wife, Terrilyn, watching from a seat near the front of the room. “I do have confidence that God will give them the grace to maintain and flourish.”
Then an officer handcuffed McCall and led him out of the courtroom.