When an investment advisor visited the California office where Jill Van Horn owned a medical practice and worked as a doctor, he couldn’t have known she was looking for a way to save money on her taxes. During his cold-call sales pitch, he introduced her to foreign exchange (or “forex”) trading, in which investors exchange their money for foreign currencies with the hopes of making a profit.
This piqued Jill’s interest because she had several hundred thousand dollars in savings that could work for her in the foreign exchange market, and she believed the potential to make more money was huge, and that was her motivation for diving headfirst into the world of forex trading. The man’s name was Dan, and before she knew it, he was teaching her how to trade currencies.
Dan had an interesting setup. At his huge home in Yakima, Washington, he had lots of room for guests. Many of the people he worked with in forex trading would stay at his house overnight for long stretches engaged with the foreign markets at all hours of the night. Jill and her husband, George, stayed with him several times and Dan would teach her the nuances of the volatile market. But she still couldn’t seem to make any money, so she decided to spend more time at Dan’s. “I was trying to get Dan to teach me because I wasn’t getting the hang of it,” she says. “I was getting frustrated.”
At Dan’s place, she met other traders in the same situation. Sam, a real estate agent, was also trying to learn forex trading. He told Jill he’d known Dan for quite some time and shared about Dan’s involvement at the church they both attended. In fact, Dan’s father was an evangelist and author who’d written several books about faith. This solidified her trust in Dan because she was also a Christian.
One day Dan told Jill about another fund he had that she could get in on while she was learning forex. It turned out that Sam had already invested quite a bit into this fund, and so Jill decided to go all in. Her brother even gave her $50,000 to invest on his behalf.
There was excitement about the money they would all soon make, but for almost two years the investment hadn’t paid any dividends. Then she got a call from Sam. Dan had died in a motorcycle accident. They made the 15-hour drive to the funeral in Washington where more than 2,000 people attended—hundreds were fellow investors. When they returned home, Sam called with devastating news: the entire investment was a sham. Dan swindled more than $30 million in a Ponzi scheme.
Jill and her husband had lost several hundred thousand dollars, and efforts by authorities to get the money back proved fruitless. What’s worse, Jill owed her brother $50,000. In a bind, Jill took a job at a medical company in Texas that offered her a signing bonus, and the Van Horns moved to the small city of Ennis, about an hour south of Dallas. The signing bonus for taking the job was gone instantly. “I just handed it over to my brother and said, ‘Here you go—here’s my signing bonus because I want to pay you back first,’” says Jill.
Living and working in Ennis was difficult for the Van Horns. The medical company wasn’t doing well, and they struggled to fit in their new community. “It just didn’t feel right for us,” she says. “I don’t think we should’ve ever gone there.” While they were seeking relief from the stress of the financial bind they were in, they found it in an unexpected place—on TV.
Jill and George struggled to find a church while in Ennis, so they would watch preachers on television. One day they came across one of Pastor Robert’s messages and began watching his program on TV. The first weekend they visited the Southlake Campus in person, Pastor Robert was preaching The Blessed Life series.
The message resonated so much with the Van Horns, they went to the Gateway Bookstore and purchased the entire DVD series. In fact, the person who rang up the sale felt led to give them a significant discount. Jill and her husband studied the series but were still overwhelmed by the financial mess they were in. They were determined to fight their way out of it, yet despite their attempts, the debt only piled higher.
After living in Ennis for about a year, Jill received a phone call from Sam. They hadn’t spoken since Dan’s funeral, but Sam called because he had found a way to recover from the massive loss of the Ponzi scheme and thought the Van Horns could benefit from it as well. He had been contacted by Stewart, a retired businessman who wanted to help the victims of the scheme while teaching his daughters how to do business.
His idea was to open living centers for homeless veterans, complete with medical clinics. Jill would oversee the clinics, which seemed like the perfect fit. So Jill and her husband joined on as credit partners and took out loans in their names to get the project up and running. She travelled around the States visiting prospective medical companies to buy, but for a year and a half, nothing came to fruition. “It was always something,” she says. “We couldn’t close a deal.” Stewart sounded like he had a legitimate plan, but Jill and George had an inkling that something was off. “It was almost like he was sabotaging it.”
Jill and her husband’s credit was run up to the max and they wanted out, but the only thing worse than staying with Stewart was leaving and having no chance to pay back all their outstanding loans. They wanted to implement the principles they’d learned from The Blessed Life, but how could they?
After a few more months with Stewart went by, Jill and George learned that he suffered a stroke. They were told he could no longer talk, so they worked several more months with a liaison named Mark. Then, he called with shocking news. “Are you sitting down?” he said. “Stewart’s an inmate in a federal prison.” He had been running his entire scam from the inside with cell phones smuggled in by his daughters. They said he had a stroke when in actuality he was in solitary confinement.
Jill was stunned but she was also relieved. “This had been going on for so long and it was like there was an end in sight,” she says. “We had a way out of this now and I could say that we didn’t know it was a scam.”
They found a lawyer who happened to have an office about 10 minutes from their house who started them down the long road of filing for bankruptcy. The first step was reporting it to the US Attorney General so they wouldn’t be deemed participants in the fraud. “I look back now and I think, Wow, I can’t believe we didn’t see it,” she says. “He was playing on our sense of greed, and even though the Holy Spirit was telling us it was a bad idea, we didn’t listen.”
Now, after refiling the last seven years of taxes and auditing all of their finances, they have found themselves in a better financial place than they were before the first Ponzi scheme. They credit this miracle to the mindset they got from studying The Blessed Life. “We learned to be givers, to tithe more intentionally, and to listen to God’s direction rather than man’s,” she says. “We’ve made a point of laughing at the devil and letting him know he won’t get us this time.” In fact, Jill has moved on to follow her dream to be a writer. She just published her third book.
But the devil is still working. Just last month, Jill received a phone call from Sam, the friend who had also been caught up in both schemes, but he had lost much more. Jill felt bad about his situation, and he felt bad about pulling them into these bad investments. He said he had a plan to get some of their money back and more. He had recently learned about a multimillion-dollar inheritance from an uncle he had in Dubai, but to get the inheritance money wired to the bank, he needed Jill to pay $7,000. “I said, ‘Sorry, Sam—not going to happen,’” she says. “Enough is enough already.” Jill and her husband now live in North Carolina and continue to attend Gateway online. For more information about stewardship ministry at Gateway, visit stewardship.gatewaypeople.com.