Reverend Tyrone Gilliams offered a prayer.
As the guest of Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, Gilliams had been invited to open a General Assembly session of the Pennsylvania State Senate. And at 1 p.m. on March 26, 2012, Gilliams did what he had done so many times as a Penn basketball player, ordained minister and self-proclaimed “mogul”: get righteous.
“We must stand up at all times for justice and equality for all of God’s people, regardless of our advantages at this time,” Gilliams decreed to the General Assembly. “Our popularity shall not be our drumbeat.”
But Gilliams didn’t practice what he preached. Popularity seemed to be what he was all about.
After graduating in 1990, the former Penn basketball player promoted rap shows, working with Sean “Diddy” Combs at Bad Boy Sportz, which intended to sign and represent athletes with ties to the rap community. Gilliams later selected Combs to headline his “Joy to the World Fest” in December 2010, a sequence of lavishly high-profile events designed to raise money, collect toys and draw awareness to hunger, homelessness and youth development.
But the weekend of activities for the Joy to the World Fest also turned out to be a cavalcade of stars revolving around Gilliams himself. Then-Philadelphia Eagle DeSean Jackson, actors Vivica A. Fox and Terrence J, comedian Kevin Hart, Sheree Whitfield from “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” basketball legend Sonny Hill, hip-hop artist Fabolous and many other big names showed up for what Gilliams declared was a “red-carpet” gala held at the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia.
Gilliams paid The Artist Warehouse, a Chester video company, to follow him around for an online reality show about his life called “TLG TV.” He was promoting charity, but he was also promoting himself — illegally.
“It was an expensive party that was thrown not to help the less fortunate, but simply to self-promote Gilliams as a person of supposed wealth and importance,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Levy wrote in a November 2013 pre-sentencing memo.
Indeed, Gilliams had used $1.3 million of laundered money towards his Joy to the World Fest, and by the time he preached against popularity before the State Senate in March 2012, he was already in big trouble.
On October 5, 2011, Gilliams was arrested for alleged wire fraud in Philadelphia, and his trial began in January 2013.
Gilliams was found guilty and in November was sentenced by a federal judge to 10 years in prison for wire fraud schemes that enabled him to steal $5 million. In addition to the 10-year jail sentence, Gilliams was also ordered to pay $5 million back to his accusers and forfeit an additional $5 million. Prosecutors believed that he and co-defendant Everette Scott Jr. solicited about $5 million from businessmen in both Florida and Ohio.
Gilliams still maintains his innocence, however, filing a writ of coram nobis — a petition to revoke a jury’s sentence in part or in full — in January 2014 in the Second Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in New York, but it was dismissed last month. Still, Gilliams’ lawyer, Warren Hamilton, plans to file a direct appeal by July that he says is likely to argue that Gilliams was denied a fair trial by prosecutor David Massey hiding an affidavit suggesting Gilliams’ innocence.
The man described on his StreamingFaith.com profile as a collaborator with “the ultimate mogul our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” is still fighting, and there’s more to him than didactics and Diddy.
A teammate of quiet faith
Gilliams grew up between North Philadelphia and Camden, N.J., and his, father Tyrone Sr., was a minister and community leader in Camden. After a successful basketball career at Camden High, the 6-foot-2 Gilliams joined the Penn basketball team, contributing a solid backcourt presence throughout his time with the Quakers.
“My memories of him are that he was a hard-nosed player, a good defender, the kind of guy that you want to play for your team,” Gilliams’ former Penn basketball teammate Raymond Marshall said.
Gilliams co-captained the Quakers as a senior along with Jerry Simon in 1989-90, Fran Dunphy’s first year as head coach at Penn. Gilliams’ teammates called him “Reverend” since his father was a minister, and he led the team in prayer before every game.
“We would go out, and he would read his bible,” Simon said.
“He was kind of quiet, kept to himself,” Marshall added. “Just a quiet, unassuming guy.”
So he was, except when it came to dealing with Dunphy’s predecessor, Tom Schneider, who was Gilliams’ coach for three of his four seasons with the program. Gilliams and Schneider had an acrimonious relationship that came to a head in February 1989, when Gilliams briefly left the team. He later returned after refusing to accompany the team on an Ivy weekend road trip.
Gilliams wasn’t a locker room disruption, but instead was standing up for his team. He left the team following a locker room incident at Princeton in which Schneider attacked the team with “personal lies,” one anonymous player told The Daily Pennsylvanian at the time.
“I am a Christian, and I’ve been taught to forgive and forget, but in this case [the Princeton] incident compromised my values,” Gilliams told The DP in February 1989 after returning to the team.
Many of Gilliams’ teammates wanted Schneider gone.
“I think we all wanted Schneider to be fired,” Simon said. “We didn’t want him to coach us anymore.”
Simon says that the team went to then-Athletic Director Paul Rubincam to advocate for Schneider’s firing, but Schneider left following the 1988-89 season to take over the head position at Loyola Maryland. Ultimately though, Gilliams was a teammate who kept to himself, played hard, notched assists frequently and stood up for his teammates.
“I didn’t see him as the type of person who would lead a whole big event like [the Joy to the World Fest],” Simon said.
“That’s the total opposite of the Tyrone that I knew,” Marshall added.
‘Kind of a wheeler dealer’
The Tyrone that investors knew 20 years later, however, was a confident guy promising superior returns.
Gilliams had become a pastor in the late 1990s and formed T.L. Gilliams, LLC, a Pennsylvania-based commodities firm with global holdings that allowed him to trade commodities such as oil, sugar and gold in 2000. By 2010, Gilliams had enough experience wheeling and dealing to be trusted with Cincinnati businessman Dave Parlin’s money — allegedly without Parlin knowing it.
Parlin had made a deal with New York financier Vassilis Morfopoulos in which Morfopoulos — who allegedly told Parlin that he was raising $10 million to invest in U.S. Treasury STRIPS — agreed to invest in strips on Parlin’s behalf.
Morfopoulos looped in California businesswoman Laura Keller, who wanted to invest $1 million in STRIPS. Keller, in turn, looped in J.R. Delgado, who had done business with Gilliams.
Keller convinced another investor to wire $1 million to the escrow account of Everette Scott, Gilliams’ attorney at the time. The $1 million was supposed to be invested in Treasury strips. It wasn’t.
Instead, $395,000 was transferred to Gilliams’s personal account at Citibank and $325,000 was transferred to the bank account of a law firm in Utah to settle a threatened lawsuit against Gilliams. Morfopoulos then unloaded $4 million to Scott’s escrow account, allegedly without telling Parlin.
$1,620,000 of Parlin’s money was invested in a gold-mining business in Ghana. Roughly $300,000 went toward converting a property in Denver into a medical marijuana firm, and $510,000 went into Gilliams’ Citibank account. But none of it was ever invested in Treasury STRIPS.
As a result, Gilliams was sentenced to 10 years in prison in November, and his attorney Scott was sentenced to two and a half years in prison in October for taking a one-percent commission out of the money that Gilliams was supposed to invest in STRIPS.
“He got snookered by Gilliams,” Scott’s lawyer, Douglas Greene, said.
Greene says that his client Scott saw Gilliams as “the black Gordon Gekko.”
“He was only going to tell you so much,” Greene said of Gilliams. “He appeared to be a high roller. The guy was dealing with millions of dollars.
“He was flying all over the place — Europe, Africa — portraying himself as Mr. Big. Everybody saw him that way. Everybody thought, wow, this guy does philanthropy, things like that. Lo and behold, that wasn’t who he was.”
Gilliams’ current lawyer Hamilton, though, maintains that Gilliams isn’t the “black Gordon Gekko,” and the affidavit that Hamilton is likely to base much of his direct appeal on is a deposition between Parlin and Morfopoulos.
“I haven’t gotten through all the notes and testimony, so I don’t know what else I’ll see in there,” Hamilton said. “But that’ll probably be part of what the allegation is, that they denied him a fair trial.”
Until then, the self-styled mogul who once posed proudly with a stack of money on his lap for one of his promotional videos will have to sit tight in prison.
“He just had this whole aura that he presented to people that he was a wheeler dealer,” Greene said. “People certainly thought he was. The guy was pretty convincing, so I guess there’s some truth to the fact that he was kind of a wheeler dealer.”
“We clearly seek You in our moments of discernment so that we may govern as honest men and women,” Gilliams said in prayer during his March 2012 General Assembly guest appearance, while he still had a pulpit.
But trying to discern the real Tyrone Gilliams remains a fool’s errand for many who have heard his drumbeat of popularity, even if that drumbeat is muted for now.