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Ohio Amish and Mennonite charity among groups allegedly scammed out of $33 million

A sign for the Christian Aid Ministries offices is shown in Berlin, Ohio Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021. The remaining members of the U.S.-based missionary group who were kidnapped two months ago have been freed, according to the group and to Haitian police. (AP Photo/Tom E. Puskar)
Tom E. Puskar
Associated Press
A sign for the Christian Aid Ministries offices is shown in Berlin, Ohio Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.

A Holmes County-based religious charity is among two organizations scammed out of $33 million by a Georgia man who told them he was using their charitable donations to supply Bibles to China, the organization has confirmed to Ideastream Public Media.

Jason Gerald Shenk allegedly took millions of dollars from donors at Christian Aid Ministries, a nonprofit headquartered in Berlin, about 20 miles south of Wooster. According to a recently unsealed federal indictment, Shenk reportedly orchestrated the scheme from 2010 to 2019.

Shenk claimed to be a missionary distributing Bibles and Christian literature in China – but instead spent the money on sports gambling, domestic and foreign stocks and at least 16 life insurance policies, among other purchases, according to the indictment.

In a statement provided to Ideastream Public Media, Christian Aid Ministries officials said the news is a “shock.”

“We have been advised by the federal government that formal charges have been filed against one of the trusted contacts that we worked with in a restricted country for allegedly embezzling millions of dollars from several charities,” officials said in the statement. “If proven true, this alleged fraudulent activity would be a shock to us, considering the recommendations by others who worked with this contact and the long-term, trusted relationship we had with this contact, including many face-to-face meetings.”

Christian Aid Ministries learned an investigation was taking place in April 2019 and received a subpoena for business records, which they provided, according to the statement. The nonprofit ceased collecting donations for Shenk at that time, officials said.

Christian Aid Ministries is affiliated with Amish, Mennonite and conservative Anabaptist groups, according to its website. The nonprofit made national headlines in 2021 when 17 members were taken hostage during a missionary trip in Haiti. The individuals were eventually released or escaped unharmed.

Among the organization's missionary efforts is to “deliver Bibles, Bible story books, and other Christian literature to believers and unbelievers around the world,” according to its website.

“We are aware that our work in restricted countries exposes us to a certain amount of risk,” Christian Aid Ministries officials said in the statement. “We work to provide as much verification as possible, but recognize that an unscrupulous person could exploit our inability to independently verify their work as thoroughly as we can in open countries where our staff are able to visit and serve.”

Officials declined to comment how much money was donated to Shenk. According to the indictment, Shenk took $22 million from one charity and $10 million from another, in addition to another $1 million in donations from individual givers. The charities are not named in the indictment in order to protect victims' privacy, said Barry Paschal, spokesperson for the Southern District of Georgia.

The primary donors are members of Amish and Mennonite communities in several states, Paschal said, and a “large number” are from Holmes County, Paschal added.

Holmes County is home to one of the largest Amish settlements in the country.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has issued a warrant for Shenk’s arrest. A former resident of Dublin, Georgia, his current whereabouts is unknown, according to a news release.

He has been charged with four counts of wire fraud; three counts of international concealment money laundering; 13 counts of concealment money laundering; 21 counts of money laundering involving transactions greater than $10,000; and one count of failure to file report of foreign bank account, according to the indictment.

Shenk sent false spreadsheets and financial statements to the charities during the scheme and directed the funds through shell corporations, according to the indictment.

Shenk renounced his U.S. citizenship in 2016 in order to hide from the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Justice officials said.

Shenk’s purchases are broken down in the indictment as follows:

  • Payments of approximately $1 million to an online sports gambling website;
  • Equity shares of approximately $850,000 in a privately held nuclear energy company;
  • Approximately $4 million in purchases of at least 16 life insurance policies in various people’s names;
  • Purchases of diamonds, gold, and precious metals in amounts totaling approximately $1 million;
  • Purchases of domestic and foreign stocks totaling more than $188,000;
  • Payments of approximately $7 million to the company running Shenk’s family farm;
  • Purchases on at least 10 personal credit cards totaling more than $820,000; and,
  • Purchases of $320,000 in real estate in the “Galt’s Gulch” development in Santiago, Chile.

Christian Aid Ministries officials said they will work to provide accountability “as best we can” in other projects and programs they help fund.

“The risk and vulnerability have understandably caused scrutiny of these programs by the Board and staff,” officials said in the statement. “The Board and management consistently determined that the opportunity to reach people who had very limited access to Bibles and Christian literature was worth the risk.”

Read the full statement from Christian Aid Ministries below.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.