ST. LOUIS • A St. Charles pastor sentenced in August to seven years in prison for defrauding elderly investors of $3.3 million has been jailed weeks early after trying to retract his guilty plea and challenging the legal basis for his conviction.
Jim Staley’s self-authored legal motion, filed Sept. 30, challenges the constitutionality of a series of federal statutes and asks a judge to schedule a trial for Nov. 16, so that U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch can appear and “testify as to the veracity” of those laws.
Staley’s four-page motion uses some language common to the Sovereign Citizen movement, which questions the authority of the U.S. government using coded language and citations of obscure laws.
Staley called himself the “beneficial owner 1st lien holder of STALEY III, JAMES EDGAR.” He copyrighted and trademarked his name in the letter and signed his motion “James Staley, registered Owner of STALEY III, JAMES EDGAR corp. sole Dba JAMES EDGAR STALEY III.”
He also included $2 with his filing: one “private dollar” and one “minted coin.”
Staley added that he relied in good faith on the statements of his employers, presumably when pitching the financial instruments to his elderly victims.
In a separate letter filed in court Tuesday, Staley terminated his relationship with his attorneys. Staley’s letter says that although lawyers Scott Rosenblum, Adam Fein and Marc Johnson had been “outstanding,” he no longer needed “representation in the matters at hand.”
Rosenblum declined to comment Tuesday.
Staley originally was to have reported to prison Tuesday. His then-attorneys sought an extension so Staley could ease the transition to a new administration at his church, help with his criminal court case and help his family move. On Sept. 21, U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber granted Staley an extension until Oct. 20.
But after Staley’s letters appeared, Webber ordered him arrested and taken to prison early, out of concern that he could be a danger to himself or others, or a flight risk, officials said Tuesday.
He is now in federal prison in Marion, Ill., online prison records show.
Staley pleaded guilty in April to four counts of wire fraud. As part of his plea, he admitted defrauding elderly victims with false promises about guaranteed returns through investment in bundled life insurance policies. Some of his victims trusted Staley because of his professed Christian faith and family values. Others were suffering from dementia, according to court testimony.
After the fraud, Staley started Passion For Truth Ministries. He incorporated the church in 2008, started live streaming in 2009 and has since gained an international following of “Christian Roots Movement” adherents. Staley advocated a return to what he said were the Bible’s core teachings.
Before pleading guilty, he denied “conning little old ladies out of their money” and blamed investor losses on the economic downturn. After his plea, he said that he had been at “the wrong place at the wrong time” and had not yet been allowed to share his side. “I know the truth and my King knows the truth,” he said.
At his sentencing, Staley apologized for being overzealous and failing to warn investors of potential losses.
He also vowed to repay victims. At the time, Staley, who had an annual church compensation of $127,000, had repaid victims just $1,950.