By Chuck Fager
Wichita, KS — Although Priscilla Deters insisted that, “I consider myself innocent of these charges,” adding that “I have a heart of grief, because I have been a victim too,” federal judge Monti Belot insisted on Friday, May 22 that she start serving her eleven-plus year sentence for wire and mail fraud immediately.
Deters was convicted on March 6 in connection with the “Productions Plus” church fraud scheme that took in over six million dollars from victims, principally members of evangelical Quaker and Nazarene churches, in 21 states. She had been free on $200,000 bail since then. NOTE: An extensive report on the fraud, entitled “Fleecing the Faithful”, has been published by A Friendly Letter. It can be sampled, along with photographs, at:
Besides the jail term, Deters was fined $150,000, ordered to pay almost $132,000 in restitution to churches in Kansas, and to reimburse the federal government $22,000 per year to defray the cost of her incarceration.
Judge Belot imposed the maximum sentence allowable under federal guidelines, and said he wished the law permitted a longer sentence. “I’m not a religious person,” he told Deters. “But there’s nothing lower in my opinion than people who use religion to cheat other people.”
Furthermore, in determining the sentence, Belot ruled that Deters was the leader of a group involving at least five others in her criminal activities. Among those identified by the prosecution as Deters’ co-conspirators were a Quaker pastor in Colorado, Randy Littlefield.
Littlefield has not been charged with a crime. However, judge Belot spoke scathingly about him. Littlefield was pastor of the Cherokee Friends Church in Cherokee, Oklahoma when members and others were persuaded to invest – and lose – over $450,000 in the Productions Plus scam.
One of the Cherokee victims, Mary Washburn, took the stand at the hearing. She said she took the $68,000 in insurance money left by her late husband out of treasury bills and put it into Productions Plus because she thought it would helop rebuild her local community. But the money is gone, and she said she was left unable even to place a marker over her husband’s grave.
Besides promoting Deters’ Production Plus in Cherokee, and two other Friends churches in Texas which also lost their money, Belot said that Randy Littlefield swayed his mother to invest heavily in the program, and then persuaded her to refuse cooperation with investigators.
“If you tell someone, as Randy Littlefield told his mother, not to cooperate with Kansas investigators, that’s evidence of criminal intent,” Belot insisted. “[Littlefield] got his mother into it because she was elderly and he hoped to be the beneficiary of her gain. Randy Littlefield,” the judge said, “is a reprehensible lowlife, a scumbag.”
Testimony at the hearing also connected Littlefield with another incident, in July, 1996 in California, that the judge ruled was part of a campaign led by Deters to intimidate investors and obstruct justice.
Doug Kunsman, former business manager at Barclay College, an evangelical Quaker school in Haviland, Kansas, testified that at this meeting Littlefield pressured and badgered him for several hours, attempting to persuade him and the college to stop their cooperation with the Kansas investigation into Deters’ activities. Kunsman said he felt very intimidated by this onslaught. However, the college continued its cooperation with the probe.
These charges had also been made at the trial. But the hearing produced a surprising new twist as well: Judge Belot announced that earlier that same day, May 22, he had received a FAX from Indiana Wesleyan University, an evangelical college in Marion, Indiana. The school was Deters’ alma mater; she graduated there with a degree in music in 1957.
The FAX informed the judge that after the trial, Deters’ twin sister, Phyllis Beaver–also a graduate of the school–had attempted to get the college to release $50,000 of its investment for use in posting Deters’ $200,000 bail.
This revelation incensed judge Belot, who had ordered after the trial that no victims’ money involved in the fraud was to be used in seeking to post Deters’ bail. After having the court reporter read back that section of the trial transcript, Belot commented, “I’m not claiming prescience, but what I figured could happen, did.”
He concluded that, “We’re looking at a woman who, through her sister in this instance, is determined to continue with this fraud scheme.” He ordered that Deters’ $200,000 bail money be frozen until the federal government could determine whether any of it was taken from the proceeds of the fraud.
Belot added that he considered Deters a continuing hazard to the public, and denied a defense request to release her on bond pending appeal. “The best lawyer in the United States won’t get you a reversal, a new trial, or a reduction,” he scoffed, ordering Deters to begin her sentence immediately.