I've never personally met either Bishop Eddie Long or Ephren Taylor, but I watched the Eddie Long video with extreme curiosity. I felt it to be entirely plausible that Taylor could have been less than genuine in his motives, since pure capitalism tends to put ethics at the bottom of the priority list (legality is not the same as morality, so someone could be unethical while remaining within the boundaries of the law). At the same time, there was also the possibility that Long's parishioners may not have read the fine print or had a misconception about what it means to invest. Some of us believe that investing means that you are guaranteed to make money. This is far from the truth. You can easily lose everything, so you should make sure you're prepared to stomach the risk before putting up your money.
My personal verdict on the Ephren Taylor/Eddie Long debacle is still out. The fact that the company Ephren represented is being investigated by authorities does not clearly imply that Taylor is guilty. We should wait until all facts are revealed before making judgment. Secondly, even if your pastor tells you that investment advice is "blessed by God," you should take the time to make sure you understand what you're getting into. No matter what happened between Eddie Long, Ephren Taylor, and the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, the truth is that we must all do our due diligence when giving someone else our money. There's a very good chance that the investors in this situation simply had unrealistic expectations about risk and found themselves disappointed when things didn't work out. An additional bottom line is that no one is going to look out for your best interests if you don't do that yourself. Our interview with Ephren Taylor is below. Decide for yourselves:
What is your name and what do you do?
Ephren Taylor. I am an author and social entrepreneur.
How did you form a relationship with Bishop Eddie Long the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church?
The Wealth Tour Live was invited in 2009 to bring a sponsored, financial empowerment seminar to educate the congregation. Pastor Long and I met personally, and after our teams worked out the logistics, we confirmed the dates of those who have supported me.
What was the nature of the business relationship that you had with the church and what was the relationship that Capital City had with the church?
I personally had no business relationship with the church. I conducted an empowerment session, during which I presented strategies and concepts for community-led business opportunities from the pulpit. I was personally introduced and sat in meetings with less than a handful of members regarding the City Capital offerings, and former employees led efforts in securing and finalizing agreements after my departure, as well as maintaining these accounts on behalf of the clients.
I served as CEO of City Capital Corporation from 2006 until City Capital acquired a new majority shareholder in 2010, which included my amicable transition from that position with the company in the fall of that same year. The company has taken a new direction with its current CEO, and I am no longer involved or associated with it in any way.
Bishop Eddie Long put out a scathing video about you on YouTube, to which you've objected. In your interpretation, what parts of the video are misleading or ultimately false?
I believe the video was a poor and misdirected attempt to deflect from other existing issues. As I outlined in my response statement, the Wealth Tour Live came to New Birth in 2009. The very basic inaccuracies were:
-From the City Capital records, New Birth members did not invest a million dollars.
-I DID NOT personally receive money from their opportunities.
-From City Capital records, technically, many of the opportunities were not due at the time the church members were seeking returns.
-There were several media reports with New Birth members and non-members who gave inaccurate accounts of their opportunities. In one case, an individual stated they lost their home due to the lack of return on their investment, when in reality, City Capital records show that this individual had not paid their mortgage for 10 full months, prior to being introduced to the company.
City Capital Corporation employees were working directly with New Birth members on these business opportunities. During my tenure at City Capital, I was not a part of the client relations process, and initially had no knowledge of members who were facing challenges. However, upon my notification from the church, I began communicating with them on resolutions. I think it's very important to remember, again, that these were business opportunities with City Capital Corporation, not church opportunities directly given to me. Although I am a business man, I am still very socially-conscious and felt compelled to help those who were seeking answers. The allegations in the video that I took money from members, or was non-responsive, were irresponsible and simply not true.
It has been reported in media that investors in gaming machines were being presented at church with "certificates of guarantees that promised that they would receive revenue that was equal to or greater than the amount invested." Is this true? If not, then please clarify.
The sweepstakes machine opportunities were not even presented during the Wealth Tour Live at New Birth. They were actually brought in months later as part of a program that I endorsed. There was a certificate of satisfaction; basically if the machine didn't perform after being placed, then it would be re-purchased. The joint venture partners that City Capital invested in had significant fulfillment delays, and there were issues with placement companies handling demand.
Prior to my departure from the company, City Capital arranged for re-purchase of machines through a trust. I, personally, never made representations that people would make 100% on their money, and have no knowledge of former City Capital employees doing such. As a matter of fact, the average income for a machine was around $300 a month. The guarantee has been grossly misrepresented in the media, but the legal document is very clear. In retrospect, if I could go back in time, I would not have allowed previous partners to introduce the sweepstakes machines into the company. They didn't turn out to be consistent with the long-term objectives of promoting a socially-conscious business landscape.
Were the New Birth members who lost their money cheated or would you consider their losses to be part of normal business risk? How would they know the difference?
This is the craziest part to me. There are members who have entered into agreements for refunds, which most financial firms would have never refunded at any level. So I'm not sure at all why there are individuals who are reporting losses, and ultimately, questioning my personal integrity. Many of the larger investors don't even have returns that are due.
People lose billions of dollars on Wall Street daily. In my opinion, this is an overly-sensationalized, bandwagon story that was only brought to this place because of Bishop Eddie Long, and the fact that we are in an age of financial recession. Most of the media did absolutely no due diligence in fact, checking to see if there were even actual losses in the first place. This was a normal business risk. I think that is where the problem lies. I, in no way, came to New Birth or any other stop on the tour with the intent to scam anyone out of money. I certainly feel a great amount of compassion for anyone who suffers losses from opportunities that were tied to my stamp of approval, which is why when there seemed to be a collective outcry from the church, I instructed City Capital to respond accordingly, prior to my departure. I cannot speak to what has been done since that time, but at the end of the day, when most people in the business world would have ignored these individuals, I responded, only to face a storm of media ridicule for lack of adequate facts presented.
Is there anything else you'd like to share with our AOL Black Voices audience?
Everyone has different motives for their actions. I am motivated by empowering others. I have spent most of my youth in business, growing companies, and working to achieve a level of success that will contribute to my legacy for my children and others. At this point in my life, it's all about changing lives and helping others to succeed, and helping them to avoid the mistakes that I've made. I'm focused on training the next generation of Elite Entrepreneurs, and wrote a book on the topic. This entire experience is part of my journey, and I didn't ask for it, nor did I anticipate it. However, all things in life are learning experiences.
I'm dedicated to helping this country turn itself around, and it isn't going to be large corporations leading the economic turn; it will be entrepreneurs. I will do everything I can to enhance my role in helping these efforts. My journey isn't over, it's just beginning. I appreciate this opportunity to air my truth, and I'd like to thank your followers and all of those who have supported me.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. To follow Dr. Boyce on Facebook, please click here.