A federal judge in January sentenced David Christopher Mayhew of Raleigh to 26 years in prison for conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering.
Prosecutors said Mayhew, 43, posed as a prosperous Christian who wore tailored suits and expensive jewelry, quoted scripture from a Bible he kept in his Jaguar and talked about the Holy Spirit as he used an elaborate Ponzi scheme to bilk at least 11 people out of more than $2 million from 2009 to 2012.
Prosecutors said Mayhew had a partner, Ronald Earl McCullough, 44, with whom he shared a home in North Raleigh while the two carried out their scam against churchgoers. But while Mayhew has been tried, convicted and sent to prison, federal authorities can’t find McCullough.
“Ronald McCullough’s whereabouts are still unknown and authorities are looking for him,” said Don Connelly, a spokesman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh.
Never miss a local story.
Federal investigators thought McCullough was in Georgia in 2014. On June 23 of that year, the U.S. postal inspectors in Raleigh issued a consumer alert in the Atlanta area that described McCullough as an “alleged con man” who perniciously targeted churchgoers. A reward was offered for information leading to his arrest.
So far there have been no takers.
One photo authorities have circulated in their search for McCullough shows him posing with Mayhew outside a church in November 2010.
The two are smiling and nattily attired in dark suits. Mayhew sports a pink necktie, with a pair of sunglasses pushed up on his forehead. McCullough wears wide pinstripes with over-sized silver buttons and a silk-black shirt.
They would meet with pastors and preachers ... and try to engage them to let them approach parishioners.
Mike Carroll, a U.S. postal inspector in Raleigh
A third man in the photo is wearing a clerical collar. Federal prosecutors say that’s not happenstance. The two men, who called their illicit enterprise “God’s Business Empire,” “GB Empire” and “Empire Investments,” specifically targeted Christians with their Ponzi scheme.
“They would go around to actual churches and they would meet with pastors and preachers of the churches and try to engage them to let them approach parishioners,” said Mike Carroll, a U.S. postal inspector in Raleigh.
It’s not clear how Mayhew and McCullough met or if they are related; state records show Mayhew was born in New York and McCullough grew up in North Carolina.
But county property records show that in 2002 the men knew each other well enough to buy houses together. From 2002 to 2013, they purchased homes in Durham, Raleigh and Fuquay-Varina.
McCullough had only minor traffic violations before the federal fraud charges. But Mayhew, while living in Raleigh, had a rash of criminal charges in the early 1990s, including communicating threats, felony larceny, assault with a deadly weapon and injury to real property. The charges were all dismissed.
By 2005, the two men allegedly were working together to defraud others. In court records Thaddeus Miller, a criminal investigator with the IRS, said there was evidence that in 2005 the two men had scammed two Ponzi schemers under federal investigation in Puerto Rico out of $2.5 million.
Back in the Triangle in 2009, Mayhew and McCullough were telling their victims they were Christians who wanted to help other Christians build wealth, according to Carroll and Miller.
They told potential investors they were involved with a foreign currency trade group and asked for a $1 million investment, but would let Christians invest lesser amounts through their trading account. They guaranteed a return, and promised to double an investor’s money within 30 days, according to court filings.
One victim was James Stewart Jr. of North Raleigh. McCullough visited Stewart at church during Bible study and talked extensively about his faith, according to a federal a search warrant. Stewart’s church was not named. Stewart and Nasir Dukes, who were partners in a project to construct a town home community in Raleigh, first invested $40,000 in May 2009 and received $80,000 back in less than a month. The two partners then invested $150,000 together, but they never saw the promised returns, according to court filings.
Neither Stewart or Dukes could be reached for comment. But according to court documents, they approached Mayhew and McCullough at a restaurant in September 2009 to ask about their money. They were confronted by “10 or 12 men,” one of whom flashed a handgun, and Mayhew told them, “I’ve been to jail and I’m not afraid to go back. … The money’s gone. You’re not getting the money back,” Miller reported in a search warrant request.
Stewart and Dukes ended up getting a “few thousand dollars back,” but Stewart lost his home valued at $400,000, according to Miller, though court documents did not say why.
Stewart and Dukes filed a complaint with the FBI in 2010, but Mayhew and McCullough continued to seek more investors.
To convince people they were legitimate, Miller said, Mayhew and McCullough created bogus financial documents, including descriptions of investment opportunities. They also involved trusted members of the community in an effort to bring in other investors.
One of those trusted people was George Bloomer, bishop of the Bethel Family Worship Center in Durham and a talk show host on the Christian-oriented Word Network on cable TV.
Mayhew and McCullough became members of Bethel in 2001, Bloomer said in an interview with The News & Observer. They didn’t come to a lot of worship services, Bloomer said, “but they came. I’ve known them for a number of years.” Mayhew was involved in the church’s singles’ ministry.
In 2006, McCullough bought a two-story home next to the church on Dowd Street that Bloomer described as a former crack house that also was used by prostitutes. McCullough gave the house, which property tax records value at $66,263, to the church.
But Bloomer said the men created a “terrible mess” for the church, taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from him and church members.
They also cost him the friendship of former Princeville Mayor Priscilla Everette-Oates and her husband DuArthur Oates, pastor of Positive Generation in Christ, a 35-member congregation in Princeville.
According to a lawsuit filed in September 2010 in Wake County Superior Court, the couple lost their life savings after investing with Mayhew and McCullough.
The Oateses, who had been members of Bethel, met with Bloomer in his church study on Feb. 23, 2009, after a prayer meeting, according to the lawsuit. McCullough and Mayhew also were at the meeting and waited outside of Bloomer’s office while he talked with the couple for about two hours, the lawsuit states.
The Princeville couple was a little more than a month from closing on land where they hoped to build a church. They were prepared to invest $250,000 with McCullough and Mayhew in hopes of getting a large return that would allow them to build a church debt free.
But after their meeting with Bloomer, McCullough and Mayhew told the couple “the $250,000 slot was gone and the only slot left was for $300,000.” The men told the Oateses that they would see a return of $700,000 to $1.8 million within 60 days, court records show.
The Oateses only had $288,000 – their life savings – but Bloomer gave them $12,000 in cash to “tide them over.”
The Oateses never received any money and lost the land for their new church building, Miller reported.
The couple was incensed. They accused Bloomer of being a thief and said they’d invested with Mayhew and McCullough partly because of his assurances.
Bloomer, in a 2010 motion filed in Wake County civil court, denied those accusations. According to the motion, Bloomer said the couple previously had invested $50,000 with Mayhew and McCullough and received a return of $100,000 in 2009.
“That’s what pulled them into the whole thing,” he said.
In 2011, the Oateses amended the lawsuit to include a loan they had made to the Bethel church. Bloomer and his church “paid in full” the $30,743 loan the couple made to the church, according to documents at the Wake County Clerk of Courts Office. Bloomer was never criminally charged.
In December, federal prosecutor David Bragdon wrote in a sentencing memorandum that Mayhew and McCullough got “trusted people involved” to give legitimacy to their scheme. “The use of George Bloomer is another example of this,” Bragdon stated in the sentencing memorandum.
The IRS investigation revealed the $300,000 the men received from the Oateses’ was deposited into McCullough’s account at the Woodforest National Bank in Woodlands, Texas.
The men used $284,000 of the money to repay other investors. Another $3,000 was spent, and $4,000 in cash was withdrawn. None of the Oates’ life savings “was actually invested in currency trading,” the IRS agent reported.
The Oateses filed a fraud complaint with the FBI in Raleigh in 2010.
The agency’s investigation, according to federal records, found that from April 2009 to June 2011, more than $1 million was wired to McCullough’s bank account.
The money was used for expensive suits, jewelry and cars, according to federal court records. Mayhew used his portion of the cash to pay home mortgages and personal loans at the Reliable Loan and Pawn Shop in downtown Raleigh that totaled more than $50,000. He also paid for vet bills for his pet bird, according to federal court records.
Investigators also found that McCullough and Mayhew were living together at a 3,700-square-foot, five-bedroom home at 11315 Oakcroft Drive in North Raleigh. Wake property records indicated Mayhew purchased the home Jan. 9, 2007.
But the federal investigation appeared to move slowly until March 2012. That’s when a man who had been involved with Mayhew and McCullough, Travis Maurice Cox, agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Cox wore a wire to several meetings with Mayhew in March 2012, during which Mayhew discussed investments.
In 2013, a federal grand jury in the U.S. District Court’s Eastern District indicted Mayhew and McCullough for conspiring to commit multiple counts of mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering.
U.S. Attorney spokeswoman Robin Zier said a warrant was issued for McCullough and Mayhew. Mayhew turned himself in nearly two weeks later on July 22.
By then McCullough was gone.
Alan Du Bois, a spokesman with the federal defender’s office, said he does not know if Mayhew knows of McCullough’s whereabouts. One of Mayhew’s Wilmington attorney’s, R. Clarke Speaks, declined to comment about the case. Two other lawyers who represented Mayhew, Geoff Hosford and Joel Merritt Wagoner, could not be reached for comment.
Connelly, the spokesman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said federal investigators think Ron McCullough was at the Oakcroft Drive home until the end of 2010. They also think he was living in an apartment in Atlanta until August 2013.
After that his whereabouts are unknown.
Mayhew is serving his time in a federal prison in Beckley, W.Va.