Year in Review: Where Your Donations Go

Today is National Giving Day and many Americans are supporting their favorite non-profit organizations. If you would like to donate to Trinity Foundation, please visit our donation page.

To the informants, readers, donors, journalists, and podcasters that interact with Trinity Foundation, we would like to say thank you for your support.

Your tips have aided our investigations, your interviews have educated the public regarding religious fraud and your donations have financed our work.

Again, thank you.

Year in Review

After Trinity Foundation founder Ole Anthony died in 2021, several documentary filmmakers contacted Trinity Foundation regarding the possibility of making a documentary about Ole’s life and our investigations. The project is currently on hold.

In March, Discovery+, the online platform of the Discovery Network, premiered the documentary Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed. The third episode featured Trinity Foundation staff investigator Barry Bowen discussing Hillsong’s use of limited liability companies and accumulation of property in Maricopa County, Arizona.

Following the online premier, Trinity Foundation published the article The Dangerous Legal Structures of Hillsong Church. The documentary and our original reporting led to an ABC (Australia) interview and appearances on several podcasts including Leaving Hillsong.

Continue reading “Year in Review: Where Your Donations Go”

Hiding Crimes with Invoices and Receipts: Deceptively Paid with Reimbursements

Note: This is the second article in a series examining financial records and receipts for pastors and religious organizations. Future articles will explore travel expenses, per diem expenses and fundraising.

In 2019 an audit of Fellowship Church, one of America’s largest multi-site megachurches pastored by Ed Young Jr., uncovered financial crimes. Two years later, church financial administrator Lara Ford pled guilty to embezzling more than $1 million.

Ford used Automated Clearing House to transfer at least $363,834 from the church’s Allaso Ranch account and $324,313 from another church account to her personal bank accounts. The thefts were disguised as payments to vendors and refunds for children unable to attend the church camp.

Ford’s crimes are described as fraudulent disbursements.

These crimes are easy to disguise. By creating fake invoices, a dishonest church administrator can manufacture a paper trail to cover his or her theft of church funds.

How common are these crimes?

Occupational Fraud 2022: A Report to the Nations, a report from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners based on an examination of more than 2,000 cases of financial fraud in 133 nations, estimated on average “organizations lose 5% of revenue to fraud each year.”

The report noted, “Financial statement fraud schemes are the least common but most costly.”

Examples of financial statement fraud schemes include billing shell companies for fictitious expenses, falsifying wages and submitting duplicate receipts for the same expense.

The Small Church Pastor Submitting Duplicate Receipts

Pastor Don Galardi lived in a modest home and drove an old truck. The outside world and church congregation would not expect the pastor of engaging in improper financial activities.

Continue reading “Hiding Crimes with Invoices and Receipts: Deceptively Paid with Reimbursements”

Televangelist Kenneth Copeland Flies Church Jet to Join Political Rally


(Pastor Kenneth Copeland praying at Trump Rally for Dr. Oz.)

This weekend Pastor Planes, the Trinity Foundation jet tracking project, observed a couple of interesting televangelist flights. During our investigations we look for flights with little to no ministry purpose.

On Saturday, November 5th, Kenneth Copeland flew from Fort Worth Alliance Airport to Palm Beach International Airport aboard his church’s Gulfstream G5 jet.

(Photo: ADSB Exchange tracking map of Copeland’s Gulfstream G5 identified with tail number N1967J.)

Then Copeland and Paula White-Cain flew to Arnold Palmer Regional Airport outside Pittsburgh for a Donald Trump political rally where Copeland prayed.  From all appearances, the televangelists flew aboard Donald Trump’s Boeing 757 jet to the rally on Saturday.

During the Sunday morning service, Paula told her congregation about the flight which included many important people.

(Photo: ADSB Exchange tracking map of Trump’s jet with tail number N757AF.)

Trump promoted Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz during the rally. After Trump’s jet returned to Palm Beach International Airport, Copeland flew back to Fort Worth.

Should pastors participate in campaign rallies where politicians are endorsed?

According to Trinity Foundation President Pete Evans, enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits non-profit organizations from endorsing or opposing candidates, has been virtually ignored by the Exempt Organizations Division of the IRS with regard to religious organizations.  Evans says, “No matter what your political bent, Kenneth Copeland and Paula White-Cain are thumbing their noses at this law and the IRS.”

Such political events raise important questions: Did Copeland’s church jet flight to Florida have a ministry purpose? If not, did Copeland reimburse the church for travel expenses? Should the jet’s tax exempt status be revoked.

The Eagle Mountain International Church (which also operates with the trade name Kenneth Copeland Ministries) purchased the Gulfstream G5 jet from actor Tyler Perry in 2017. The church previously purchased a Citation X (Cessna 750) jet in 2005. Currently the two jets are based at Fort Worth Alliance Airport rather than Kenneth Copeland Airport.

In a 2007 filing with the Tarrant County Appraisal District, Copeland’s church listed the Cessna Citation X as “reasonably necessary for worship.”

Long-Distance Ministry: Pastors Buy Second Homes and Start Churches Hundreds of Miles from Their Base

(Photo: In the 1970s, televangelist pioneer Oral Roberts acquired mansions in Beverly Hills and Palm Springs, CA, leading his Tulsa, OK-based ministry from afar.)

Oct. 31 was the day Martin Luther posted the 95 theses on the Wittenberg Church door—October 31, 1517—which began the reformation, also called by some the 2nd wave of Christianity. He critiqued expensive church real estate along with many other practices of the Catholic Church and the Papacy.  Today, Luther’s anger would probably be directed at the aberrant activities of the megachurches.  The reformation is over 500 years old and we still struggle with some of the same problems.

To expand their reach and receive larger donations, televangelists and megachurch pastors are planting churches hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles, from their base of operations. Some pastors appear to be motivated by pursuit of wealth, planting churches in wealthy communities. Others are drawn by the allure of Hollywood, taking up residence in Beverly Hills.

The investment in long distance ministry frequently produces extravagant housing expenses and over-the-top travel costs. Why fly first class when your donors will finance a jet?

The late televangelist Fred Price illustrates the trend of long distance ministry by planting a church in New York City while his home was located over 2100 miles away in California.

In 2007, Business Jet Traveler asked Price, pastor of Crenshaw Christian Center, “How much do you fly for the church?” Price responded, “A couple of years back, when we were first establishing the church in New York, my wife and I flew every single week-52 weeks-Los Angeles to New York and return. Now the least we’d go is once a month and recently we’ve had to go twice a month.”

Joseph Prince, the Singapore-based televangelist, has launched two churches in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and acquired a large plot of land in Colleyville, TX for future expansion. If there is one city in the world that doesn’t need another televangelist, it is Colleyville, the home of Robert Morris, pastor of Gateway Church, James Robison, head of LIFE Outreach International, Matthew Crouch, head of Trinity Broadcasting Network, and Joni Lamb, head of Daystar Television.

Church members and donors to the churches and ministries cited in this article should ponder critical questions. Can a pastor effectively lead his congregation from afar? Are million-dollar mansions good stewardship?

Continue reading “Long-Distance Ministry: Pastors Buy Second Homes and Start Churches Hundreds of Miles from Their Base”

Televangelist Benny Hinn Served Lawsuit While Preaching

Norman Quintero, CEO of TeleAmerica Television Network and Senior Pastor of Iglesia Getsemani in Anaheim, California, has sued Benny Hinn, Hinn-associate Donald B. Price and publicist Ronn Torossian for defamation. Hinn was served the lawsuit while speaking during a “Miracle Service.”  The exchange can be viewed on YouTube.

In a lawsuit filed in Superior Court Orange County, California, Quintero alleges that Price published a website “to destroy Dr. Quintero’s personal reputation.” According to the lawsuit, “The Website states, or at least implies, that Dr. Quintero has been convicted on criminal charges. The statement is false.”

While the offending website norman-quintero.com is now offline, a backup copy of the website can be viewed at the Internet Archive.

Price, a loyal officer at Benny Hinn Ministries, also runs eMinistries Consulting and Family Altar of the Air.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit lacks many details on Hinn’s alleged role in the defamation.  Hinn’s alleged role will probably surface during court testimony.

The court battles began in 2021, with Price suing Quintero in Dallas County Court “for tortious interference with contract, tortious interference with prospective contract, defamation, and business disparagement, stemming from a failed real estate transaction,” as one court filing summarizes the case.

The case took a quick detour in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas before being remanded to the lower court because of a question about Quintero’s residency.

However, the court may have questioned the wrong person’s residency. Price’s lawsuit says, “Plaintiff, Donald B. Price, is an individual residing in Dallas County, Texas.”

Trinity Foundation investigators, which are based in Dallas, searched Dallas County Appraisal District and found zero evidence of Price residing in Dallas County. Why would Price live in Dallas, when his “ministry” Family Altar of the Air owns a 14,500 square-foot mansion worth $6 million a short distance away in Collin County?

Family Altar of the Air also owns a Florida mansion worth over $4 million.

Just how many homes does Price and his organizations own? Is this good stewardship?

Perhaps these “ministry” leaders should sell an extra home to fund their ministry rather than rely on the generosity of donors.

Missing Money: $544,817 Disappeared from Juanita Bynum Ministries

 

Missing money is a big red flag for investigators. So, let’s examine the Form 990s filed by televangelist Juanita Bynum’s new non-profit organization which was incorporated in 2016.

But first, a math quiz: Zero minus zero equals …

For 2016, The Juanita Bynum II Ministry Inc (That’s the official ministry name) reported zero total assets and zero liabilities. Subtracting zero from zero yielded an amazing answer: $163,854 in net assets.

What happened to net assets in 2017? They disappeared.

For 2017, the ministry reported total revenue of $383,272 and total expenses of $242,450 resulting in a surplus of $140,822 which disappeared with the net assets reported from the previous year.

For 2018, the ministry reported total revenue of $639,280 and total expenses of $399,139 resulting in a surplus of $240,141 which also disappeared.

At the end of 2018, the non-profit organization reported zero net assets.

The IRS should conduct an audit to determine where the $544,817 in unreported surpluses went.

Zero Accountability

Another troubling issue was noticed while reviewing the 990s. On page one of each 990, the ministry reports zero board members. There is zero accountability for the organization.

 

 

Time to Review Church Budgets

 

With the arrival of the year 2023 in two months, that means many church elders and board members will soon be voting to approve church budgets.

Bob Santy, Executive Pastor of Operations at Sunridge Community Church in Temecula, California, recommends that churches finalize a budget two months before the church fiscal year.

Budgets reveal church priorities. Here are several critical questions that can guide a church leader on voting to approve a church budget. The same questions can also help concerned donors evaluate their financial support for a church:

Discipleship: When Jesus gave the Great Commission to His followers, Jesus told them to make disciples. This is the purpose of the church. Is the church effectively making disciples? If the church is declining, does the church need new leadership or to change its financial priorities by investing more in discipleship programs?

Program Services: How much does the church spend on its stated mission? By subtracting administrative and fundraising expenses, a concerned donor can determine how much is spent on program services.

Salaries: According to executive search firm Vanderbloemen, “The average church uses 52% of the church budget on compensation.” Often the highest paid church employee is the senior pastor. Is the pastor paid too much? Does the pastor receive an outrageous housing allowance? If the senior pastor were paid less, would the church be able to hire another employee? Are the church salaries reasonable?

The IRS website asks an important question: “How do we know whether the compensation we’re paying to our officers and key employees is reasonable?” The answer: “Reasonable compensation is the value that would ordinarily be paid for like services by like enterprises under like circumstances.”

Transparency: Is the church refusing to disclose big ticket expenses? If a  church refuses to disclose pastor salaries, there might be excessive compensation.  If the church has been sued, is the church disclosing attorneys’ fees?

Donor responsibility: In response to the infamous Jim Bakker/PTL scandal, Congress held a hearing in 1987. Pastor D. James Kennedy testified, “I would think that if a person is going to give money to something, that they have … a responsibility to learn where it is going.”

Donor responsibility should serve as a check to prevent the church from straying from its mission to evangelize the world, make disciples, help the poor, the fatherless, the stranger and the widows. If the church primarily operates as a social club for its members, then donors should take their money elsewhere.

Nepotism: Ministry Family Members Compensated Over $3 Million

Most evangelical Christians have never heard of “prophet” Chuck Pierce and his “family business” Glory of Zion International. Pierce is a widely respected individual among charismatic and Pentecostal Christians who believe that God is raising up a new generation of prophets to guide the church.

This respect is not warranted. Two huge red flags, nepotism and excessive compensation, in Pierce’s ministry should raise important questions for donors.

According to the ministry’s latest Form 990 which recently became public, seven Pierce family members received $3,779,930 in compensation and independent contractor payments from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021.


(Photo: Spreadsheet of Pierce Family compensation)

In the past four years, Chuck Pierce has been compensated more than $5 million.

By operating as a ministry, Glory of Zion International exploits a loophole in the tax code. Non-profit executives who serve as ministers or paid as independent contractors are not subject to an excise tax on compensation of more than $1 million.


(Photo: Page 5, Line 15 of 2020-21 Form 990)

Who determined how much each of the Pierces are paid? This information is not disclosed to the IRS. It is possible that Chuck Pierce determines his own salary.

(Photo: Schedule J of 2020-21 Form 990)

Normally, when a non-profit organization pays an executive more than $1 million, the organization would rely upon a compensation study to justify a large salary which would then be approved by the board. Three of eight voting board members are from the Pierce family.

Out of the six highest paid employees, four are family.  Nepotism is a widespread problem in megachurches and religious media ministries. Church members and ministry donors should hold religious leaders to higher ethical standards. Nepotism and excessive compensation  in ministries should serve as red flags for donors to avoid.

 

 

 

Trinity Foundation Investigation Update:  Long Distance Ministry

 

 

((Photo: Pictured is Joel Osteen’s Texas residence. Joel Osteen’s 2nd home is located in Newport Coast, California, 1,175 nautical miles away from Houston where he pastors Lakewood Church.)

One of our goals at Trinity Foundation is to engage in explanatory journalism.

According to Wikipedia, “Explanatory journalism or explanatory reporting is a form of reporting that attempts to present ongoing news stories in a more accessible manner by providing greater context than would be presented in traditional news sources.”

We seek to explain the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How questions.

After publishing an article in February about million-dollar pastor mansions, we continued to perform property searches and have uncovered many examples of pastors living in luxury.

Several patterns were observed during this investigation. We noticed pastors acquiring homes hundreds of miles from their churches. How can these pastors effectively serve a congregation when they live so far away?

Some pastors lead churches in different states, traveling by jet between multiple homes. Is this practice good stewardship?

Our article about Long Distance Ministry will be published next week. These investigations take time and money. We subscribe to various databases to conduct nation-wide property searches.

Today, September 22nd, is North Texas Giving Day. Thousands of people are giving to favorite charities. We are thankful for all donations given to Trinity Foundation. They help us more than you will ever know.

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