Televangelist William Todd Coontz is finally serving a five-year prison sentence for filing fraudulent tax returns and failing to pay his federal income taxes.
On April 3, 2019, WSOC-TV investigative producer Michael Stolp tweeted,”It appears Todd Coontz is officially a prison inmate, but maybe not for long. Per court documents he was scheduled to voluntarily surrender to the Bureau of Prisons yesterday. His attorneys filed a motion for release pending trial, which a 3 judge panel approved 2-1 yesterday.”
Coontz served one day and was then released. Coontz would appeal his tax conviction all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which denied the final appeal on February 22, 2021.
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.”
But how can donors make responsible decisions if charities and churches are not transparent about their finances?
James MacDonald’s ministry Walk in the Word (WITW) reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that it received $0 in donations for a three-year period encompassing July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2014. A Trinity Foundation investigation has determined the ministry failed to report donations from non-profit charitable foundations.
In 2012, WITW received $16,000 from Mitchell Swaback Charities and $11,563 from the National Christian Charitable Foundation.
In 2013, WITW received $2,000 from the Everett D & Geneva V Sugarbaker Foundation, $600 from the Fish Family Foundation of Maine, $10,000 from Mitchell Swaback Charities, $13,590 from the National Christian Charitable Foundation, and $5,000 from the Overbeck Family Foundation.
In 2014, the National Christian Charitable Foundation gave WITW $257,638, but it is difficult to determine if the money was given throughout the year or after the fiscal year ended on June 30th.
The failure to report at least $58,000 to the IRS should serve as a red flag for supporters of James MacDonald. Where did the money go?
For the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2014, WITW switched from filing the Form 990-EZ to the Form 990-N, which does not disclose total revenue or total expenses.
Although the Form 990-N is restricted to organizations normally receiving $50,000 or less in revenue, WITW used the form while receiving more than $270,000 from foundations in 2015.
More recently, the National Christian Charitable Foundation donated $82,696 in 2017.
The Same Name Game
When two separate organizations operate with the same name or similar names, it creates an opportunity for multiple bank accounts with the same name and opportunities for financial abuses. Trinity Foundation calls this “the same name game.”
While MacDonald served as pastor, Harvest Bible Chapel registered the tradename Walk in the Word Ministries and transferred more than $2 million in assets from WITW to the church.
It is possible that all the charitable foundation donations were transferred from WITW to the church. However, the 990-EZ and 990-N documents do not show such transfers.
Furthermore, many of the charitable foundations giving donations to WITW identify the recipient not just by name, but also by Employer Identification Number (EIN) 36-4218233. Clearly, their goal was to support the media ministry of MacDonald rather than the church.
MinistryWatch recently reported, “An analysis of the financial statements by MinistryWatch, with the assistance of the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation, reveals what the Trinity Foundation calls a ‘suspicious’ pattern of self-dealing between Kanakuk and founder ‘Coach’ Joe White and his family.
Kanakuk Ministries is one of the largest Christian camps in the United States. Each summer, it serves more than 20,000 children from around the country. Its fiscal year 2017 revenue topped $35-million.”
Self-dealing occurs when non-profit executives operate a for-profit company which does business with the non-profit organization. This is not illegal unless the for-profit company excessively profits off the non-profit entity.
Self-dealing may represent a conflict of interest. Independent board members should carefully vet such transactions and only approve them if the costs are based on competitive, fair market prices, which Kanakuk Ministries claims to have done.
Kanakuk Ministries rented property from Kukorp LLC and K-Land One LLC of which both are owned by White family members. Kanakuk Ministries also provided a $310,000 loan to Kukorp.
The MinistryWatch investigation revealed, “If you add up all these numbers, Kanakuk Ministries paid the Whites, or entities wholly owned by the Whites, $572,132 in 2017.”
MinistryWatch has published two articles concerning sex crimes allegedly committed at Kanakuk Ministries.
MinistryWatch reported, “A civil complaint alleges that there were at least 57 victims, but the prosecutor in his case estimates that the real number could be in the ‘hundreds.'”
Kanakuk Ministries was not on our radar until Warren Cole Smith, president of MinistryWatch reached out with questions. In fact, that is how many of our investigations begin: A journalist, concerned donor, church member or employee calls or emails us with questions or tips.
If you have a question or inside information about a ministry or church, please share it with us. We are especially interested in tips about fraud (which involves deception – and we are not accusing Kanakuk Ministries of fraud), theft, abusive behavior or excess (such as extravagant spending on homes, vehicles, clothing and private jets).
Have you ever wondered where televangelists travel on privately owned and ministry owned jets? We take a critical look at televangelist flights in the first episode of our new 30 minute long video blog Air Traffic Out-of-Control.
For almost twenty years, Trinity Foundation has tracked televangelist aircraft and we’ve discovered TV preachers often travel after the Christmas holiday season ends. January 2nd was a busy day for televangelist and ministry aircraft.
Our first episode also features sermon clips in which televangelists Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar and Jesse Duplantis talk about their use of jets. Duplantis claims that 99% of the time he travels alone. Is this good stewardship?
Our next episode of Air Traffic Out-of-Control will explore the operating costs of private aircraft. We are hoping to publish it in April.
Following the publication of this article, Trinity Foundation was informed that it included a factual error: An exemption existed in the tax code preventing ministers from being subject to the excise tax. After more research and visiting an IRS office, we have an update.
Before publication, we contacted an IRS spokesperson and were told the excise tax on excessive compensation applied to churches based on Section 3401. While asking follow-up questions, a misunderstanding emerged regarding the role of Section 3401.
Congress authored and adopted Section 3401 as part of the tax code. It defines terms such as wages and employer, while creating a list of exemptions from other tax rules and regulations for income earned from specific jobs. Definition number 9 exempts “services performed by a duly ordained, commissioned, or licensed minister of a church in the exercise of his ministry.”
A church will be subject to the excise tax only if it pays more than $1 million in wages to an employee that is NOT a minister and NOT an independent contractor. Trinity Foundation has investigated several churches that have paid attorneys more than $1 million. However, attorneys typically work as independent contractors and pay their own taxes directly rather than being paid as a payroll tax by the church.
The excise tax on parachute payments will not be applied to ministers either.
We are sorry for all confusion created by the original article. The updated version of the article features includes a strikethrough of two sentences and three additions in bold text.
The IRS has finalized its rules on an excise tax to discourage excessive compensation at non-profit organizations. In its February 16th Bulletin, the IRS announced an update to section 4960 of the Internal Tax Code taxing non-profit organizations and churches that pay “covered employees” who are not ministers more than $1 million in wages or provide excessive parachute payments.
The Bulletin explains that a covered employee “is one of the five highest-compensated employees of the organization…” These individuals are typically listed on a Form 990 filed with the IRS. Churches, synagogues and mosques are exempt from filing the financial disclosure document.
When covered employees (non-ministers), who are often executives, receive more than $1 million in wages or excessive parachute payments, the non-profit must file a Form 4720 Schedule N. Then the non-profit organization must pay a 21% tax on the excessive compensation.
In 2018, the IRS modified the Form 990, revealing if organizations have paid an excise tax on payments of more than $1 million. Excise payments are indicated on page 5, line 15 of the Form 990.
Hillsdale College and Glory of Zion International (Chuck Pierce) so far do not report paying the excise tax even though both feature an executive receiving more than $1 million in compensation. This is not proof of wrongdoing because some compensation is exempt from the excise tax such as an organization carrying liability insurance on an employee. Pierce also serves as a minister and his compensation is not subject to the excise tax.
This excise tax penalizes excessive wages, not fees. If a pastor is paid to perform a wedding, the income is considered a fee and would not subject to an excise tax.
Besides excessive wages, the IRS also treats parachute payments as a form of excessive compensation.
After Jerry Falwell Jr. resigned from Liberty University last year, journalists reported the disgraced university administrator could receive $10.5 million in parachute payments.
According to The Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Falwell is due his $1.25 million salary for two years, followed by a lump-sum payment of about $8 million, because of a clause in his contract that allowed him to resign with full pay if his responsibilities were curtailed.”
Two of the most dangerous trends in Christianity are the growing rejection of financial transparency and removal of leadership oversight in megachurches and ministries. Such actions create an environment where wolves in sheep’s clothing turn the Church into a marketplace and victimize an undiscerning flock.
To document these trends, Trinity Foundation established the Governance Project, a database providing information on how religious organizations are governed.
While looking at amended articles of incorporation for televangelist churches, Trinity Foundation investigators discovered that many televangelists were eliminating church member voting rights. Church legal documents frequently used the phrase “the corporation elects to have no members.”
By vesting all decision-making power in a board of directors which are often hand-picked friends or employees, pastors consolidate power in their organizations and eliminate church member oversight.