Monday, October 26, 2020

Bible college Olivet University pleads guilty in $35 million money laundering scheme

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Olivet University, the fundamentalist Christian college at the center of a $35 million money-laundering scheme that had also ensnared Newsweek, pleaded guilty to one felony and one misdemeanor in the case on Thursday.

The California-based bible college pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of falsifying records and agreed to a pay $1.25 million in forfeiture over the next 24 months.

Andrew Lin, a former chairman of the board of trustees at Olivet, got off with a wrist slap before Manhattan district court Judge Ruth Pickholz, agreeing to not serve in an executive or managerial capacity at Olivet over the next two years in pleadings Thursday.

Pickholz ruled that if the obligations are met over the next two years, the university will be able to re-plead to a misdemeanor charge and will be sentenced to a conditional discharge.

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Prosecutors contended that a multiyear money-laundering scheme — masterminded by Etienne Uzac, co-founder of IBT Media, which owned Newsweek at the time, and Christian Media CEO William Anderson — was used to keep the operations of both organizations afloat and for Olivet to buy land in upstate New York.

Uzac and Anderson both pleaded guilty Feb. 14 before Judge Pickholz to one count of money-laundering and one count of fraud in a bid to avoid being tossed in the slammer. The duo return for final sentencing on April 20 in what is expected to be a no-jail sentence.

Tracy Davis, the president of the San Francisco-based college, represented Olivet at the hearing Thursday. Her husband, Jonathan Davis, the other co-founder of IBT Media, remains at the helm of the operation.

Olivet was founded by followers of controversial Korean cleric David Jang, and its members, who are called “The Community,” were intimately involved in founding and running of IBT, which purchased Newsweek in 2013.

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That same year, Olivet purchased the former Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center in Wingdale, New York, for $20 million, with plans to expand the small college on the 900-acre grounds. But sources say most of the buildings on the grounds remain vacant.

A 17-month grand jury probe exploded into public view in January 2018 when police from the Manhattan district attorney’s office raided Newsweek’s offices and carted away 18 computer servers.

Prosecutors eventually charged that computer seller Oikos Networks was helping the defendants obtain fraudulent loans for tech equipment worth far less than the invoices showed.

The excess cash over several years was deposited into accounts controlled by the defendants.

Marc Agnifilo, an attorney for Uzac, said all the money from the fraudulently obtained loans has since been repaid with interest and penalties.

“None of the lenders lost a dime,” he told The Post at the time of the Feb. 14 pleading.

Prosecutors had initially been pushing for harsher penalties and jail time for the defendants but were overruled by Pickholz.

A spokesman for Olivet said, “The school will undergo a process that, when successfully completed, allows for a resolution with two misdemeanor charges related to commercial loans.”

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