updated 8/19/2004 9:50:29 PM ET 2004-08-20T01:50:29

Seven people who claimed to have access to a $1.6 trillion trust fund created by descendants of Mormon church founder Joseph Smith were arrested in what federal investigators say was a nationwide fraud ring that targeted Mormon investors.

More than 100 victims were bilked out of total of between $20 million and $50 million on a promise they would receive returns from the fund, the FBI said Wednesday.

Investigators said there is no evidence such a trust fund exists.

The ring operated out of a liquor store and an apartment complex in San Diego where several of the suspects lived. Investigators said the suspects flew around the country pitching phony deals for more than 10 years.

Investigators said the scammers used religion to target wealthy investors, holding prayer meetings and describing plans to build a religious theme park. Investors with illnesses were promised cures, the FBI said.

Those behind the scam claimed a link to descendants of Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but were in no way connected to the church, FBI agent Adam Lee said.

Four people were arrested Tuesday in San Diego, two in Utah and one in Mississippi, Lee said. Three other suspects remain at large.

Eight other people were arrested last year and two others agreed to plead guilty before charges were filed against them, Lee said.

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