Lawsuit: $500K get rich quick scheme targets Twin Cities African community

A Ponzi scheme targeting Twin Cities African immigrants resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars lost, and even a pastor who allegedly bilked members from his own congregation.

It allegedly happened more than a year ago, but the plaintiffs recently filed a class action civil lawsuit in Hennepin County hoping the renewed attention encourages more victims to come forward, which could push the total losses into the millions.

The fraud victims said the investment opportunity was too good to pass up. Now, they’ve realized it was too good to be true.

Kirkpatrick Weah, Thomas Motanya and Othello Gbalah are the lead plaintiffs, claiming to be victims of the bright futures penny auction scam. They recently filed a class action civil lawsuit on behalf of more than 70 other victims who lost close to  half a million dollars. The sell was simple: Invest in an internet auction company, and make four times what you put in, bring more people into the fold, and make even more money.

The pitch happened inside a Brooklyn Center office building, and there were more presentations at nearby hotels. The men claim Yasmin Ali and Mohamed Ahmed were the masterminds and owners of Bright Futures, which is now out of business. Paul Miantona, Grace Crawford, and Pastor Josef Howard were then allegedly brought in as shareholders to recruit, primarily in the Twin Cities African community. However, three months in, the men realized the investment was a mistake when they asked to be compensated and there was no money.

They were essentially part of a Ponzi scheme to pay old investors with money from new investors.  According to his Facebook page, Miantona works in the banking industry, and on a modeling website Crawford calls herself a jewelry designer. Both declined comment. Pastor Howard said he hadn’t seen the lawsuit yet, and that he’s surprised. He works at Bethel World Outreach Church in Robbinsdale and denied the allegations. He referred Fox 9 to his attorney, who declined comment.

As for the other defendants, Ali and Mohamed are the husband and wife team also charged in Ramsey County for allegedly taking millions from the state in the elaborate Deqo daycare hustle, a story our Fox 9 Investigators broke. Ali is out on bond and did not return calls for comment. Mohamed is still on the run and wanted by police. 

The victims say they were convinced to invest only with cash or money order, making it more difficult to trace. 

The plaintiffs said they've contacted the FBI and the Minnesota Attorney General's office. Both agencies are not confirming or denying an investigation is underway, but the Hennepin County attorney's office is looking into this as a criminal matter.     

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