Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Federal prosecutors say three men, one from West Columbia and another from Myrtle Beach, were telling people they'd take all their debt away for a fee and then running with the money.
Jerry Hartsoe, 57, James Dew, 59, and Mark Manuel, 49, are now all in federal prison.
Prosecutors say the trio preyed on churches and fringe political groups across the country. The men would make friends with people in debt and then say they could help with debt relief.
"The reason they said they could eliminate this debt is because they had secret access to government accounts, whereby they said they'd be able to draw off a bond of $100 billion and they could use those funds to pay off your mortgage, pay off your credit cards, to pay off whatever debt you had," said Assistant US Attorney DeWayne Pearson.
Pearson said the men would embed themselves in these groups to gain trust and in one case, actually delivered a sermon at a church they would later scam.
"If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is," Pearson said. "Banks, state governments, federal governments have lots of programs designed to help people who are having trouble, and many if not all of those programs have no charge at all. People should be very wary of anyone who claims they can end your debt, or pay off all of your debt, if you only give them a couple thousand dollars."
The men took hundreds of thousands from more than 250 victims across the US.
They'll be sentenced in May and face 30 years in prison.