Ephren Taylor Jr. was a business success story. He was lauded by everyone for his gifted abilities in business and commitment to empower those in the black community. He prided himself on reaching millionaire status as a teenager and retired at 19 after starting a dot-com company worth millions. But even after this accomplishment, he went on to work and become the youngest African American CEO of a public company. His story was told in three books, on countless media outlets and on his website.
Now, as he approaches 30, his story of honor has turned to one of shame. According to the Kansas City Star, he stands accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of “a Ponzi scheme to swindle more than $11 million, primarily from African-American churchgoers.”
But how was he able to swindle so much money for so long from the people that respected him the most? The Kansas City Star notes that it wasn’t just his long list of accolades. Taylor was a preacher’s kid, and people felt comfortable knowing that their money was invested with one of their own. He pitched himself as a person you could trust, someone who made it rich and could help you do the same in a socially responsible way.
“He sold himself as an African-American success story,” Kevin Berger, a Kansas City attorney for three local investors who have a $266,000 judgment against him said to Kansas City Star. “Rags to riches. ‘I’m good, made it to the big time through my hard work and enterprise and faith-filled community outreach.’ ”
His success story was a mix of truth and exaggeration. It’s true that he started his first business, Flame Software, at 12. In high school he later went on to found GoFerretGo.com, a job posting website for young adults with a high school friend and was featured in Forbes as having reached seven figures at 16. But the company never gained much ground and shut down in 2002, two years after he graduated from high school.
“I don’t think he ever was (a teenage millionaire),” Cathy Lerman, the Florida lawyer who filed a North Carolina lawsuit that was recently refiled in California, seeking class-action status said to the Kansas City Star.
Taylor continued to launch several businesses. Along the way he started to pick up fraud allegations, but managed to keep a clean, trustworthy reputation. His scheme began to gain ground in 2009 when he hired a PR agent and made several media appearances promoting his financial success. From 2008-mid 2010, Taylor and his company City Capital had raised $7 million from investors, most of which went to his lavish lifestyle, promoting his books and his wife’s music career.
“He appeared to be very spiritual, religious, and he sold to the religious community, which appealed to us,” Bill Lee, a NC resident who lost most of his retirement fund to Taylor’s schemes said. “It kind of makes you more upset because he was using the name of God to help him in this mess.”
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