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Ex-cult Minister Sentenced To Prison, Ordered To Pay Restitution To Followers

Denver Post, Wednesday, March 18, 1998
Unfiltered A former minister of the cult religion The Way International was sentenced to prison Tuesday in U.S. District Court and ordered to pay restitution of more than $ 500,000 to his former followers after he admitted he had bilked them of their money, in some cases their life savings.

Richard J. Panyard, 45, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison and three years' probation and ordered to repay more than 20 of his followers a total of $ 528,000. That amount included $ 176,000 to be repaid to one follower, Kathleen Shay of Boulder, who had turned over to Panyard her entire family inheritance of stock in McDonald's Restaurants.

In January, Panyard pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud. He and two followers, Jack Northart and Charles Mandry, founded three companies in the late 1980s using money coerced out of the Way's followers. The companies struggled for two years without showing profits and around April 1989 became "a scheme to defraud," according to the U.S. attorney's office. Judge Lewis T. Babcock defined them as the classic "Ponzi scheme," where one person's investment in the company was used to payoff another's.

Babcock read portions of letters he received from people who had invested with Panyard, including one woman who said she had been married by Panyard, then forced to fight off his sexual advances less than a year later. "He created an atmosphere of confidence. We depended on Richard Panyard to guide us because we trusted him," the letter stated.

The Way International was founded in New Knoxville, Ohio, in 1961, as a biblical research and teaching ministry, espousing that Jesus Christ is not God, that there is no Holy Trinity and that Jews are not the chosen people, but are a tribe from Siberia. The Way has been known to arm its senior members, and some of its members are known to wear bulletproof vests to public meetings.

A large number of followers live in the Black Forest area north of Colorado Springs, and the church owns an encampment north of Gunnison, which has been the target of numerous investigations involving firearms and munitions.

Panyard was ordered to surrender to the U.S. marshal on April 14.

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