An investment adviser charged with orchestrating a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme spent nearly three-quarters of a million dollars on prayers by Hindu priests in India to ward off a federal investigation and save her failing business, according to testimony at her trial this week.
Using investors' money, Dawn Bennett paid a man in Washington state approximately USD 720,000 between 2015 and 2017 to arrange for the priests to perform religious ceremonies meant to ease her troubles, said a Justice Department prosecutor and the man Bennett paid. For one of these "yagya" rituals, Bennett spent USD 7,250 for five priests to pray for her across 29 consecutive days.
"I am in a very very tough fight going against my enemies and I need all the help I can get," Bennett wrote in an email to Puja.net website operator Benjamin Collins.
Six-figure payments for prayers didn't spare Bennett from a 17-count indictment on fraud charges. Neither did the "hoodoo" spells that investigators suspected her of casting to stymie federal investigators, a claim fueled by a peculiar discovery during an FBI search of her home.
Collins, a government witness at Bennett's trial, testified on Tuesday that he sincerely believed the religious rituals would help Bennett, whose payments accounted for roughly half of his website's income.
"We don't necessarily pray with a guaranteed outcome," he added.
Bennett, 56, raised more than USD 20 million from at least 46 investors in her luxury sportswear company, often preying on elderly clients who knew her from a radio show she hosted in the Washington, DC, area, authorities have said.
They said she used investors' money for her personal benefit, including jewellery purchases, cosmetic medical procedures and a USD 500,000 annual lease for a luxury suite at the Dallas Cowboys' home stadium.
(With inputs from agencies.)