05/03/2013 09:24 EDT | Updated 07/03/2013 05:12 EDT

Pastor, wife charged with defrauding church members

A Toronto church pastor and his wife have been charged with bilking millions from members of their church using a pyramid-style investment scam that allegedly cost some investors their homes.

Police filed 38 charges of fraud over $5,000 Friday against both Verna, 48, and Marlon Hibbert, 49, who operated the Masonic Church of God.

The criminal charges follow an Ontario Securities Commission probe last year that found the couple had taken more than $8.6 million from investors, much of it unaccounted for.

The criminal charges stem from complaints from 38 people representing more than $2 million in losses. Police allege there were more than 200 victims in total, and are asking anyone who invested with the Hibberts to come forward. The alleged frauds took place between 2005 and 2010.

Police said investors signed over large sums of money to Marlon Hibbert, who claimed to be a successful trader of foreign currencies. They were promised returns as high as 8½ per cent.

Investors were shown account statements, police said, that purported to show a return on their investments. Some early investors were paid a dividend.

However, much of the money was moved to accounts in Panama, according to police. Det. Gail Regan said the Hibberts were living a lavish lifestyle of "fancy cars, big homes."

Investors lost savings, homes

Regan said many of the investors lost homes and their retirement savings in the alleged fraud.

“They are distraught, they are hurt," said Regan. "They still can’t believe someone like this has done this to them. They were hoping that this interest rate that he promised was going to be true."

Lorraine Bahlmann who worked as an assistant for the Hibberts has also been charged.

Regan said the Hibberts continue to operate a church out of a rented space in Toronto under the name The Life Centre Word of Faith Ministries, but said there have been no complaints related to that church.