Prominent Houston Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell is free on bond after surrendering in Louisiana on Thursday.
Caldwell and Gregory Smith, a financial planner from Shreveport, Louisiana both pleaded not guilty to charges of wire fraud and money laundering after prosecutors claim they defrauded investors of more than $1 million.
During their arraignment at a federal court in Shreveport on Thursday afternoon, both men surrendered their passports, agreed to stay in the country, and promised to show up at every future court date to avoid paying the $250,000 appearance bond amount.
Throughout the 16-minute-long arraignment, Caldwell seemed relaxed, smiling and nodding at family members in the front row, while his lawyer says he’s confident his client will beat the case.
“As everyone knows, a grand jury hears one side and one side only,” said Dan Cogdell, Caldwell’s attorney. “The old saw is, ‘A grand jury can indict a cheeseburger if they want to.’”
Court documents claim Caldwell and Smith convinced their clients to invest in now-worthless bonds from pre-Communist China by promising returns of up to 15 times the original deposit.
Prosecutors say the two defendants used that money to pay off mortgages, car notes, and other personal expenses.
However, Caldwell, a pastor at Windsor Village United Methodist Church and former Presidential spiritual adviser, has said he has evidence that shows he believes the bonds were legitimate and has contended he intended any profits to go back into the church and its ministries.
“The grand jury didn’t hear the evidence that the trial jury will hear,” said Cogdell. “The grand jury didn’t hear from Kirbyjon Caldwell like the trial jury will hear, so we’re looking forward to our day in court when we can actually go forward and present our defense.”
Cogdell has maintained any investor who wanted their money back received a refund.
“We believe in our hearts and in our souls that the jury’s going to do the right thing at the end of this trial and acquit Pastor Caldwell of all charges,” said Cogdell.
Neither Caldwell nor Smith answered questions about the case on Thursday either before or after their first court hearing.
After making brief comments following the arraignment, Cogdell did not answer any further questions.
Henry Lejeune with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western Division of Louisiana, also declined comment, telling KHOU 11 that his prosecutors typically don’t comment during the early stages of a case.
If convicted on all charges, both Caldwell and Smith could face up to 30 years in prison.