Encino Man Is Charged With Bilking Minister

Times Staff Writer

An Encino businessman has been charged with bilking a Baptist minister out of nearly $1 million and using some of the money to bankroll the production of X-rated films, federal prosecutors said Friday.

Nicholas Roblee, 34, was ordered held without bail on charges of wire fraud and money laundering after his surrender Thursday.

Roblee, president and chief executive of Premier Marketing and Investments Inc., was also named in a civil complaint by the Securities and Exchange Commission. He is accused of promoting bogus investment schemes involving high-yield promissory notes, real estate bridge loans and precious metals.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Matthew E. Sloan said Roblee promised returns of 70% a month when he persuaded the Rev. Calvin A. Harper of Cincinnati to liquidate his life savings of $925,000 -- held in 401(k) accounts -- and reinvest the proceeds in gold, gold concentrate and other precious metals. Harper was hoping to parlay the investment into a fund to build a new home for his church, Sloan said.

Using the name of Nicholas Richmond, Roblee assured Harper that he had raised large amounts of money for his own and other predominantly white churches through the years and now wanted to do something to help Harper's congregation, which is African American, the prosecutor said.

Roblee also promised to place Harper's money in a trust account where the principal would be secure but, according to the criminal complaint, he diverted the entire amount within days of receiving it.

Sloan said that Roblee used most of the money to pay back former investors and to finance his adult-film production company. The SEC has recovered about $250,000 of Harper's money.

Roblee's lawyer, Mark Werksman, said Friday that Roblee invested all of his clients' money in good faith and denies intentionally causing any of the losses that occurred.

According to the criminal and civil complaints, Roblee and his company raised more than $4.5 million from dozens of investors in at least eight states by promising returns of as much as 200% a month. Federal authorities said he spent much of the money on limousines, guards, a down payment on a $1.5-million house, his adult film company and the attempted purchase of a male strip club.

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