How a former youth pastor ended up on the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted’ list

·3 min read
This June 14, 2018, file photo shows an FBI seal on a podium before a news conference at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.
This June 14, 2018, file photo shows an FBI seal on a podium before a news conference at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. | Jose Luis Magana, Associated Press

Fifteen years ago, Christopher Burns was a junior high ministry leader for a megachurch in Georgia. Now, he’s on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list.

His path from the former position to the latter goes through the financial services industry, where he worked after he left his youth pastor job.

The FBI alleges that Burns, while working as an investment adviser, set up a self-benefitting investment fraud scheme and ultimately bilked his investors out of millions of dollars.

“Burns obtained then violated the trust of his clients to fund his lavish lifestyle,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan in an April 12 press release. “He betrayed investors and stole their savings with promises of safe investments that would yield high rates of return.”

On April 11, Burns, 40, was charged with 10 counts of wire fraud, two counts of mail fraud and four counts of money laundering, according to the release. He’d previously been charged with just a single count of mail fraud.

Where is Christopher Burns?

In their announcement of the new charges, law enforcement officials reiterated calls for the public to help locate Burns, who has been on the run since September 2020.

At the time of his disappearance, Burns lived in Berkeley Lake, Georgia, which is located about 25 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta. His car was later found abandoned in Dunwoody, Georgia, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Burns was last seen by his ex-wife and children. They are not believed to have known about the financial fraud while it was taking place, the Roys Report noted in its coverage of the case.

“I have no idea who I was living with,” said Meredith Burns to WSB-TV in 2021.

Meredith and Christopher Burns met in eighth grade while serving together on a mission trip, according to the Roys Report. They married in 2002 while still students at a Christian college in Indiana and later moved to Georgia, where Christopher Burn continued his youth ministry career.

Around 2011, Burns transitioned away from ministry into financial services work. He’s accused of gradually creating a Ponzi scheme through which he could personally benefit from trusting investors.

“Investors were promised that their money would be loaned to businesses that needed financing and with little to no risk. In some cases, Burns falsely described the investments as secured by the protection of collateral and personal guarantees. In other cases, he falsely claimed that he would pool investors’ money to lend it to startup businesses and charities. But in reality, he used investors’ money to repay prior investors and to fund his business and his lavish lifestyle,” the April 12 press release said.

FBI search continues

Burns disappeared soon after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission began investigating his work. In the years since his disappearance, these investigations continued, resulting in the new charges filed last month.

Keri Farley, special agent in charge of FBI Atlanta, said in the April 12 press release that the FBI remains committed to locating Burns and holding him accountable for his actions.

“Financial crimes of this nature can cause significant disruptions to the lives of those who are victimized, and the FBI is dedicated to holding these criminals accountable,” she said.

Farley continued, “The FBI is still seeking the public’s help in locating Burns and will continue to pursue him no matter how long he tries to evade the law.”