A former AXA Advisors LLC broker was permanently barred from the U.S. securities industry for running a more than $600,000 Ponzi scheme whose victims included members of his own church, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority said.

According to the regulator, Kenneth Neely of St. Louis induced at least 25 customers of AXA and his former employer, Stifel Nicolaus & Co, as well as family and fellow church members, to participate in a bogus St. Louis Investment Club and invest in a nonexistent real estate investment trust.

Neither Neely nor a lawyer for him could immediately be located for comment.

FINRA said Neely tried to avoid scrutiny by employers and tax authorities by having investors make payments of $2,000 to $3,000 to his wife, and he prepared false invoices designed to look like official ownership certificates.

It said Neely paid out about $300,000 to some investors, and converted a larger sum to help fund his lavish personal lifestyle, including country club expenses, sometimes totaling more than $4,000 a month.

What is especially disturbing about this case is the exploitation of family and church relationships to defraud unsuspecting investors, FINRA Enforcement Chief Susan Merrill said in a statement.

FINRA said the scheme ran from June 2001 to June 2009 and that AXA Advisors, a unit of France's AXA SA , fired Neely after he admitted converting customer funds for his personal use.

Neely entered a consent agreement concerning FINRA's findings, the regulator's records show. FINRA said it has referred the matter to prosecutors.

FINRA regulates more than 4,800 brokerages.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; editing by John Wallace)