Con man who 'preyed on the faithful' to leave jail next month

TACOMA, Wash. -- A man who posed as a "faith-based financial advisor" then targeted members of his own church will be released from prison next month - much to the surprise of his victims who expected him to be behind bars for at least 12 more years.

Stone Phillips was convicted of theft and securities fraud in 2009. At the time, his victims thought he'd be locked up for 17 years, but he's getting released after serving just five years.

"I was not prepared for that because we thought we had quite a bit of time before he was going to be released," said Mary Shriver, who learned about the new release date after getting an alert from a victim notification service.

The Court of Appeals found the original sentence was incorrect based on Phillips' offender score, which includes a defendant's current offenses and prior criminal history -- Phillips did not have a prior criminal history. When the Court of Appeals referred the case for re-sentencing, a Pierce County Superior Court judge ruled Phillips would be released on March 31 after serving nearly five years.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Hyer said the prosecution asked the judge to impose a high-end sentence but she did not. Hyer said the 2009 sentencing was based on a calculation error by a former Pierce County Prosecutor.

Shriver and her husband were just two of a handful of victims who Phillips targeted; they met him at church.

"He was our friend - or we thought he was our friend - and obviously he wasn't. He was grooming us like he did everyone else," said Shriver.

Shriver and her husband agreed to use Phillips as a broker to refinance their SeaTac home and manage the property, but it was all a scam. They later learned payments were not made on the mortgage and eventually lost the home in foreclosure.

KOMO 4 Problem Solver Connie Thompson exposed the scheme in 2005 and followed the case until the day Phillips was sentenced.

Hyer said all victims should have been contacted during the re-sentencing but they were not.

"Just knowing he's getting out puts us through some more emotional issues because we thought we had more time that we really didn't have to deal with that and now it's coming up," said Shriver.