Over the years, there have been stories of guests returning home from Disney World with mountains of debt and unexplained illnesses, but this story may be the first of its kind, as it involves a pastor whose trip to the Walt Disney World Resort ultimately resulted in his being a fugitive wanted by the FBI.
In fact, his Disney trip earned him a spot on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list.
Christopher W. Burns
Chris Burns, a former youth pastor turned financial adviser, is wanted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for fraud. But his alleged scheme was no ordinary scheme.
According to prosecutors, Burns carried out a Ponzi scheme for years–one that made victims of residents in three different states.
He allegedly operated under the guise of a “peer-to-peer” lending program with promissory notes bearing high interest, and the money he received from his “clients” was then used to fund Burns’ alleged “lavish lifestyle” that included the purchase of a $1 million lake house, several vehicles, a boat, and airtime for his local radio show, as well as multiple trips to the Walt Disney World Resort located near Orlando, Florida.
While Burns was reportedly able to keep up his vicious scheme for several years, everything started to unravel in August 2020.
The 40-year-old financial adviser and local financial talk show host from Georgia were contacted by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the message was clear: the SEC had opened an investigation into his businesses.
One day before Burns was to hand over documents to the SEC, he vanished into thin air.
The only traces left behind were a car in a parking garage, registered to Burns, copies of three cashier’s checks totaling nearly $80,000, a string of angry investors, and a family that had just as many questions as the investigators.
“I have [had] to rethink my entire life,” said Philip Burns, Chris Burns’ son, who was only 15 years old the last time he saw his father. “He was my role model. It hurts so much that he left that day. I believe he is still out there somewhere, but [he] is not a part of our family and our lives anymore.”
In the SEC’s complaint, Burns is accused of telling his clients that they would be repaid their principal investment amounts, as well as interest–interest that might reach as much as 20%. He even gave clients a “personal guarantee for each promissory note, in which he promised to repay 100% of any principal loss,” per the complaint.
Burns’ indictment further states that he promised his clients collateral that “either did not exist at all or was worth substantially less than he represented.”
Before it all came crashing down, Burns allegedly sold at least 70 promissory notes to multiple investors living in North Carolina, Florida, and Georgia.
A “Disney Adult”
By his family’s account, Burns was obsessed with Disney.
Not long after Burns began hosting his own financial radio talk show, he also began spending money profusely–especially when it came to Disney.
Burns’ family says they visited the Walt Disney World Resort at least twice a year and enjoyed several Disney cruises, but it didn’t stop there. Thanks to Burns’ fraudulent practices, the family also enjoyed the perks of being Disney Vacation Club members.
Burns’ wife Meredith said that at one point, her husband paid for their neighbors to come to Disney World with them. Burns even paid for Disney World VIP tours that contributed to the family’s trip expenses that sometimes exceeded $8,000 per day.
“He was obsessed with Disney,” Burns’ son Philip said. “He was a Disney adult.”
FBI’s Most Wanted
As of January 2024, “Disney Dad” Christopher W. Burns is still considered a fugitive and is listed among the FBI’s Most Wanted.
He has not been seen since September 24, 2020. He told his wife he was driving to South Carolina to see his parents, but when he didn’t return home as planned, his wife contacted his parents, who said they had not seen him and that no plans had been made between Burns and his parents for a visit. A warrant for his arrest was issued on October 23, 2020.
“Burns is charged for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from clients in an illegal investment fraud scheme. 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,” said Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “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.”
Christopher W. Burns is wanted by the #FBI for his involvement in a mail fraud scheme in Georgia in which he allegedly defrauded a number of victims out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. He has not been seen since leaving his home on Sept 24, 2020: https://t.co/5GEvVM5ARk pic.twitter.com/GCXMUQLsZp
— FBI Most Wanted (@FBIMostWanted) December 9, 2020
Per the FBI website:
Christopher W. Burns is wanted for his alleged involvement in a mail fraud scheme in Georgia. It is alleged that Burns defrauded a number of victims out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. As part of his scheme, Burns allegedly falsely told victims that he was investing their money in a “peer to peer” lending program in which loans were backed by collateral. In reality, the collateral promised by Burns either did not exist at all or was worth substantially less than Burns represented. He has not been seen since he left his home on September 24, 2020, one day before he was supposed to turn over documents related to his businesses to the Securities and Exchange Commission. A federal arrest warrant was issued for Burns on October 23, 2020, in the United States District Court, Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta, Georgia, after he was charged with mail fraud.
Do you know anything about Christopher W. Burns’ location? The FBI allows tips to be submitted via the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office at (770) 216-3000. You may also contact your local FBI office, the nearest American Embassy or Consulate, or you can submit a tip online at tips.fbi.gov.
As always, Disney Dining will keep readers updated on this story.