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Officials of the now defunct Baptist Foundation of Arizona, accused of bilking investors out of $570 million, won’t stand trial in February.

A judge in late December postponed until Aug. 3 the trial for four ex-officials charged with fraud, racketeering and theft in what investigators call the biggest affinity scam in state history.

Originally set to begin this week, the trial was first reset for June, and then delayed again when defense attorneys said they needed more time to prepare their case.

Those facing charges include former BFA president and CEO William Pierre Crotts, ex-general counsel Thomas Dale Grabiniski and former directors Lawrence Dwain Hoover and Harold DeWayne Friend.

The four are accused of misleading some 11,000 investors about the fact that the foundation, which went bankrupt in 1999, was losing money. Prosecutors say the men fooled the investors, many of them retirees who thought they were investing their money with their church, by setting up a Ponzi scheme, where funds from new accounts were used to pay off old ones.

The foundation’s former accountant, the now-defunct Arthur Anderson, paid investors $217 million for its role in the collapse, without admitting any wrongdoing.

Unlike most “affinity” frauds, where victims are targeted because they belong to a particular group, like a club or religious affiliation, BFA investors have recouped a portion of their losses through court settlements and sale of investment properties owned by the foundation.

According to a December investor letter from the BFA Liquidation Trust, about $371 million has been returned to investors during the last four years. That equals between 55 cents and 69 cents on the dollar of their original funds, depending on the type of investment.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has identified a half-dozen recent affinity frauds targeting churches, ethnic groups and the elderly, costing victims between $3 million and $325 million.

The SEC also offers tips on how to spot and avoid affinity frauds. They include:

–Check out everything, no matter how trustworthy the person offering the investment opportunity seems.

–Do not fall for investments that offer spectacular profits or guaranteed returns.

–Be skeptical of any investment opportunity that is not in writing.

–Don’t be pressured into making an investment before you have had time to think about it or investigate.

–Beware of Internet spam e-mails offering a “can’t miss” investment opportunity. The SEC advises passing up such opportunities and forwarding the unsolicited e-mail to the agency’s investigators at enforcement@sec.gov.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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