Texas Religious-right Politicians Fall Prey to Scam by 'Godly Man'

by Dan Quinn

Oh, the irony.

The Dallas Morning News reports that four Texas politicians — politicians often aligned with religious-right groups that use faith as a political weapon — were among the victims of a Ponzi-like scheme run by a North Texas businessman. It seems they trusted the scammer because he appeared to be a good Christian and “godly man.”

According to the Morning News, state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington; state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford; state Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney; and former state Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, invested separately a total of $331,000 in an energy-trading finance company. They were among more than 20 other Texans who invested about $2.5 million in Archer Bonnema’s company, Pirin Electric.

Christian, King, Paxton and Zedler have been among the most stridently right-wing politicians in the Texas Legislature. Christian, currently running for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, infamously declared a “war on birth control” when he served in the Legislature. Zedler is, among other things, an anti-evolution fanatic who also called women protesting last summer’s extreme anti-abortion legislation “terrorists.” Religious-right groups have lined up behind Paxton’s bid for this year’s Republican nomination for Texas Attorney General. The primary election is Tuesday, March 4.

Bonnema, who claimed to have helped find Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat a few years back, appears to have specifically targeted Christian conservatives as potential investors. His investors apparently were impressed. From the Morning News:

“I ran into him at a conservative event,” said Zedler, R-Arlington. “What he had said was he was in the Mount Ararat region and they had come up with some stuff. He may have given me a DVD.”

Zedler and King went to a presentation at Bonnema’s home for potential investors.

“You should have seen his house,” Zedler said. “He really played up his Christian credentials. On the ceiling there was a dome and around the dome there was a Bible verse. To me, he used that as a way to get us to try to put our guard down.”

The newspaper says Christian was the last lawmaker to invest:

“He put that Christian spin on it, that he was a godly man,” Christian said. “He’s still going around to churches playing that game with unsuspecting people after he got off with our money.”

Imagine that — misusing faith as a way to hurt people. Golly. How could these politicians have seen that coming?

When the company collapsed, Christian, King, Paxton, Zedler and other investors sued, claiming they were victims of a Ponzi-like scheme. That’s also a bit ironic. The good-government, anti-corruption group Texans for Public Justice reports that those four politicians have received more than $620,000 since 2008 from Texans for Lawsuit Reform — a political action committee that wants to make it harder for Texans to sue when they think they have been wronged.

After a settlement of the lawsuit, the Pirin Electric investors will get back just a small fraction of the money they lost. Meanwhile, Christian, King, Paxton and Zedler want voters to trust them to make better decisions with taxpayer money than they do with their own.

You can read the Dallas Morning News story here and the Texans for Public Justice report here.