By Wendy Saltzman
ATLANTA — CBS Atlanta News has found Bishop Eddie Long and another local megachurch leader, Gary Hawkins, are linked to a questionable mortgage venture that is being investigated by the feds.
CBS Atlanta was the first to report on Matrix Capital’s long list of victims. The company promised to lower people’s mortgages for $1,500 upfront. Police say thousands of homeowners paid Matrix money, but according to investigators, most of them ended up in bankruptcy and losing their homes.
So many people trusted Matrix Capital front man Fred Lee because he made promises of lowering people’s mortgages in the sanctity of their local church.
CBS Atlanta first tracked down Fred Lee on the campus of New Birth, Bishop Eddie Long’s church.
“You are not licensed, are you?” reporter Wendy Saltzman asked Lee.
“No not at all. But hold on, stop, stop, stop stop,” he said.
On Wednesday nights, New Birth is where Lee convinced church members to pay him instead of their mortgages. That is where people started the process that would eventually cost many their homes.
“Where is Eddie Long? Because we would like to talk to him about why he is holding these seminars on his property here,” Saltzman asked the security guards at New Birth.
“You have to leave the property,” the officer responded.
The case against Lee is now being investigated by DeKalb County police and the Secret Service.
Long wouldn’t answer Saltzman’s questions. In a statement, his spokesman said New Birth only provided Lee with a room to hold his meetings.
But megachurch pastor Gary Hawkins did a lot more than that.
“I believe that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this man walks in great integrity,” Hawkins said in a Matrix Capital corporate video.
Hawkins is the face of the company’s promotional video. He not only brought Fred Lee into his church; he vouched for the man who would eventually be accused of stealing from his church members.
“You said you thought he was telling the truth?” Saltzman asked Steve Dorsey.
“Yes,” Dorsey replied.
“You were listening to his seminar in a church,” Saltzman said.
“True, true,” he said. “Being in the church, you have more of a trust.”
Dorsey and former church member Sheila Robinson were in the taped promotional seminar at Voices of Faith church.
“When my bishop told the whole church, it had a lot of credibility. He used his credibility and that’s what I think a lot of people were hanging in on. I know me personally, it was all because of that,” Robinson said.
Robinson told CBS Atlanta News she trusted Hawkins, and by proxy Lee. She paid the $1,500 premium, but later learned she was in trouble with her mortgage company, because Matrix Capital never even made a single call to her bank.
“They are still luring people in, and it is under false pretenses,” Robinson said.
Robinson tried to speak with Hawkins, but he wouldn’t answer her question, and he wouldn’t answer CBS Atlanta’s Tough Questions, either.
“He said he would meet with you, but he can’t meet with you on camera,” Hawkins’ assistant told Saltzman.
After promising an off-camera meeting, reporter Wendy Saltzman was told to make an appointment, but Hawkins refused to schedule that meeting even after Saltzman tried multiple times.
Police have spoken with Hawkins, but told CBS Atlanta News he was less than forthcoming with records that would show if payments were made to either the bishop personally or the church.
In a statement, Long said Matrix Capital is no longer holding seminars at New Birth. But CBS Atlanta has learned another Matrix executive has continued making those same presentations in Lee’s place.