A white-haired octogenarian who signed off with “See you in church on Sunday” and penned a book called “Jesus Christ, Money Master,” Gallagher paid for his airtime on three stations, using it to promote his services. He promised “retirement income you’ll never outlive” to those considering investing with him.
Any faith in Gallagher’s financial prowess, though, turned out to be misplaced. The 80-year-old Texan has confessed to bilking his customers in what authorities called “a classic Ponzi scheme.” His companies were shuttered by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in March 2019.
On Monday, state District Judge Elizabeth Beach sentenced him to three life prison terms after he pleaded guilty to criminal charges in Tarrant County. That punishment comes on the heels of a 25-year sentence he received after pleading guilty to similar charges in Dallas County.
Authorities say Gallagher’s scheme netted millions of dollars from victims who ranged in age from 62 to 91.
Lori Varnell, chief of the elder financial fraud team at the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, called him “one of the worst offenders I have seen.”
“He ruthlessly stole from his clients who trusted him for almost a decade,” she said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. “He amassed $32 million in loss to all of his clients and exploited many elder individuals. He worked his way around churches preying on people who believed he was a Christian.”
Gallagher, who has been behind bars since his 2019 arrest, filed a notice of appeal. The attorney representing him in the appeal process, J. Warren St. John, declined to comment on the case Tuesday.
At sentencing in Tarrant County, several of Gallagher’s victims described losing tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings, CBS Dallas-Fort Worth reported. Some said they had to sell their homes or borrow from their children to make ends meet.
“I’m afraid my money is going to run out,” Judy Dewitt said, according to the station. “It’s a very scary thing.”
In a “living résumé” posted on YouTube, Gallagher presented himself as a “premier, True American” on a mission to help others retire comfortably and early. The video described an impressive background: a stint in the Peace Corps, a Ph.D. from Brown University and experience as a broker in New York.
He said he “dumped Big Broker and developed my own company” after feeling called to financially educate and empower the public. Appearing in the video, he lamented that Americans give up on themselves too easily and look to others to solve their problems.
“Freedom requires education and empowerment, and I educate and empower clients,” Gallagher said. “Less government, more personal responsibility and, with the help of God, a better world.”
Through his companies, the Gallagher Financial Group and the W. Neil Gallagher, Ph.D. Agency, he offered and sold securities, raising millions from at least 60 investors, the SEC wrote in a complaint. This despite having “no valid securities-industry credentials” and a 2009 brush with the Texas State Securities Board, which reprimanded him for engaging in fraudulent business practices.
Gallagher promised “guaranteed, risk-free returns ranging from 5 to 8 percent per year.” Contrary to those promises, he did not use investor funds to purchase securities. Instead, authorities said, he used it to pay other clients and to cover payroll, radio costs and other personal expenses.
When investigators searched Gallagher’s offices at the time of his arrest, they discovered he had no computer or accounting system. The court-appointed receiver, Cortney C. Thomas, described the parts of the building as being in disarray, filing photographs showing offices strewn with heaps of boxes, documents and personal belongings.
“Over a decade of business records and unopened mail are scattered and stacked randomly throughout the office,” he wrote in a report filed in April 2019.
His bank accounts contained under $1 million — a fraction of the amount he took in from investors. He “was not truthful” regarding some of his assets, Thomas wrote, and concealed the existence of an office in Hurst, Tex., until it was discovered by authorities.
Authorities have seized property and other assets owned by Gallagher and others associated with him in an effort to return some money to investors.
But those who lost hard-earned savings said they continue to suffer financial and emotional harm years after the arrest.
“I don’t trust anybody anymore,” victim Susan Pippi said in court on Monday, according to CBS Dallas-Fort Worth, “except for God and my family.”