Fortune was not manna from heaven, just money from mugs

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The Independent US

The Lord has been a good provider in the small farming town of Mattoon, Illinois. A struggling building contractor suddenly found resources in his threadbare bank account to buy 41 trucks. A deputy sheriff bought himself a boat, a Harley-Davidson and a handful of classic cars. A retired electrician began offering locals envelopes stuffed with cash to help them start businesses.

The Lord has been a good provider in the small farming town of Mattoon, Illinois. A struggling building contractor suddenly found resources in his threadbare bank account to buy 41 trucks. A deputy sheriff bought himself a boat, a Harley-Davidson and a handful of classic cars. A retired electrician began offering locals envelopes stuffed with cash to help them start businesses.

The untold riches were the result of a Christian-inspired local investment scheme - a modern-day showering of manna from heaven. But as the Lord giveth, so the Lord taketh away: the federal government has just indicted 11 of the town's residents on fraud and racketeering charges, accusing them of diddling at least 10,000 gullible people around the country out of $12.5m (£8.5m).

The mastermind of the scheme, prosecutors say, is a retired electrician called Clyde Hood, whose Omega Trust and Trading company enticed investors with promises of a 5,000 per cent return and pious exhortations to "keep the Lord's warehouse full". Omega persuaded the faithful from as far afield as Hawaii, China and Australia to send money in cash, wrapped in tin foil. Mr Hood claimed to be an international banker who had worked for several Fortune 500 top companies.

The scheme, which began in 1994, proved a bonanza for Mattoon, no more than a bump in the road halfway between St Louis and Indianapolis. But trouble began when investors failed to see any return. An answer machine urged them to put their trust in God, blaming the government for any delay.

Defence lawyers insist the alleged scam is a misunderstanding. But Mr Hood does not seem to recognise the United States as a valid authority, and has pressed for the case to be thrown out on the grounds that the federal government does not exist.

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