Rip-Off Alert | Scam artist breaks trust of generous small town

Virginia Volner, the wife of a pastor at a church in a small Tennessee town, was sentenced to five years in prison after scamming those in the town of more than $5 million. (KSNV file)

More than 30 people in a small town thought they were helping a member of their community, only to learn it was all a sham.

Ultimately, victims lost millions of dollars, and in some cases, their houses and livelihood.

Terry Parish and Bill Etheridge are still angry and resentful after losing thousands of dollars because they trusted the wrong woman.

"When the devil came to our town," recalled Parish.

This is how the men describe the arrival of Virginia Volner, the wife of the pastor at a local church, to their small Tennessee town.

"She told people that she was going to be inheriting millions and millions of dollars but she needed assistance in paying for taxes, inheritance fees," said U.S. Postal Inspector Susan Link.

Inspectors say she started asking for loans from friends.

"She borrowed money saying if you give me $5,000, I'll return it with $1 million as soon as this closes," said Link.

Federal authorities say she received more than $5 million from 30 people.

"Some people barely making it, some people doing very well for themselves, but she treated them all the same. She went after each one of them, it didn't matter if they had a little or a lot she wanted it for herself," said Parish.

Etheridge lost $90,000 and his trucking business after putting it up for collateral to help Volner.

"I had refinanced everything I had and had to file Chapter 7 on my trucking to keep them from taking everything I had," said Etheridge.

As suspicious grew, Parish called Volner and said he knew the people of his town were being scammed.

"If I ever find out for sure that you are a criminal, I'll do everything in my power to bring you down. And that's when we drew the line in the sand," said Parish.

Parish and other victims hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit.

"Honest to goodness though and I believe, if we hadn't done that ... that crazy woman would still probably be out here done it," said Parish.

Volner was sentenced to five years in prison on conspiracy charges and ordered to pay more than $3 million in restitution to the victims.

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