The Mexican Catholic religious order Legionaries of Christ (LOC) created financial trusts that are currently holding $300 million in assets following a sex scandal and a 2010 Vatican announcement it would seize the order’s assets, reports the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
Three financial trusts with ties to the LOC were created in New Zealand. Their existence was discovered in a leak of financial records which has been named the Pandora Papers. The trusts invested in residential real estate.
“In statements to ICIJ, the Legion acknowledged it had set up one of the three trusts, but distanced itself from the other two, which held the majority of the funds designated for the Legion.”
When the ICIJ asked the LOC about disclosure of its assets, the ICIJ was told the “religious institutes do not have an obligation to send detailed information to the Vatican regarding their internal financial decisions or organization.”
On September 26th, ADSB Exchange tracked televangelist James Robison’s Cessna 560XL jet making six trips. The jet is registered to Zoe Aviation, a shell company owned by LIFE Outreach International.
ADSB Exchange uses Universal Time Coordinated (UTC) rather than an American time zone to determine the date. The first flight, which left from Destin, Florida, began on September 25th UTC.
The jet traveled from Destin to Fort Worth, Texas, then to Centennial, Colorado, then to Fort Worth again, then to Austin, Texas, then Santa Fe, New Mexico, and finally to Eagle, Colorado.
Questions an investigator might ask:
Was there a ministry purpose for each flight?
If the flights included personal, non-ministry travel, are the trips reported as a fringe benefit and taxed? The Internal Revenue Service has established a tax rate that includes both a terminal fee and a tax based on mileage for such flights.
If Zoe Aviation is leasing the jet to other organizations, should LIFE Outreach International report the revenue as unrelated business income and file a Form 990-T to disclose the revenue to the IRS?
In one particular case, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, NC received over $8 million in relief funds while they had roughly $100 million in cash and short-term investments available. It’s interesting to note in regards to Catholic’s share of PPP funds that, “Catholic entities amassed at least $3 billion — roughly the same as the combined total of recipients from the other faiths that rounded out the top five, AP found. Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Jewish faith-based recipients also totaled at least $3 billion.
Catholics account for about a fifth of the U.S. religious population while members of Protestant and Jewish denominations are nearly half, according to the Pew Research Center.”, according to the article. (Read more here)
Trinity Foundation also reported in May 2021 that, in 2020, Trinity Broadcasting of Texas received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loan of $3,308,005. The Texas-based non-profit also reported $30 million in donations, $24 million in revenue from selling airtime, and $17 million of investment income. Their total revenue for the 2019 year was $933,330,134!
During an episode of Leah Remini’s TV series about Scientology, a chilling strategy from L. Ron Hubbard is displayed onscreen. “Dominance of others is a control system. We are not looking for pleasant control–we are looking for effective control.”
Sometimes, there is little difference between Scientology and churches that claim to be Christian. Pastors and televangelists have employed the same techniques, using legal threats to control victims. At the heart of this scandal is the use of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs).
However, more victims and whistleblowers are fighting back by exposing the abusive practices on social media with the hashtag #NDAfree. A group of whistleblowers have created the NDAfree website featuring their stories.
Christian journalists are also highlighting the problem. Christianity Today news editor Daniel Silliman reviewed at least 15 confidentiality agreements and concluded on Twitter, “Many are so broad that someone who signs one could be in violation at any time.”
Televangelists Kenneth Copeland and Paula White effectively used NDAs to prevent congressional hearings into financial practices among televangelists.
In 2007, Senator Charles Grassley’s office sent faxes to six TV ministries demanding financial records. Copeland responded defiantly to Grassley, “You can go get a subpoena, and I won’t give it to you.”
Three years later the inquiry came to an end when Grassley decided not to issue subpoenas to the televangelists or former employees of their churches.
A Senate Finance Committee report on Copeland’s ministry stated, “Former employees were sincerely afraid to provide statements for fear of being sued since they signed confidentiality agreements.”
Don’t believe every criticism of televangelists on social media.
After a series of tweets and memes claiming that televangelist Joel Osteen drove a Ferarri spread rapidly accross Twitter in mid-July, Trinity Foundation attempted to verify the car ownership but found no evidence of Osteen owning a Ferrari.
Snopes, the fact checker, came to the same conclusions. Snopes reported that one of the memes featured “a Ferrari in Zurich, Switzerland in 2013” which was clearly not owned by Osteen.
In a recent tweets, pictures of Kanye and Kim West’s Calabasas, California home were also wrongly labeled as Joel Osteen’s residence. In fact, pictures of at least five different homes have been identified on Twitter as belonging to Osteen.
Trinity Foundation has created an online questionnaire for informants to report religious financial fraud. If you have witnessed religious fraud, theft or financial excess, please let us know about it.
Tips play an important role in solving crimes and exposing bad behavior.
According to attorney Stephen Martin Kohn, author of The New Whistleblower’s Handbook, tipsters uncover more fraud than professional auditors and law enforcement combined.
Trinity Foundation specializes in open source investigations. We comb through public databases and government records for evidence of religious leaders living extravagant lifestyles. However, our investigations often result in unanswered questions.
Informants may help investigators understand the big picture by answering the five Ws: who, what, when, where and why.
We will keep your identity confidential unless you authorize us to contact investigative reporters or government investigators on your behalf. We’ve been protecting the identity of confidential informants successfully since we began investigating in 1989.
NDA INFORMANTS WANTED: If you would like to become an informant and have previously signed an NDA, fill out our online questionnaire.
Let’s take a look at one of the most expensive days so far in 2021 for church, ministry and Christian university aircraft trips. We tracked eight aircraft on March 19, 2021. It is possible that more than $100,000 could have been saved by flying commercial rather than using privately-owned aircraft.
List of aircraft owners:
A. Mt Gilead Full Gospel International Ministries B. Mighty Horn Ministries C. Liberty University D. Liberty University E. Faith Life Church. F. Assemblies of God Financial Services Group G. Philadelphia Church of God H. Harvest International Ministries
Trinity Foundation has compiled a database of more than 50 church, ministry and Christian university aircraft, but have been unable to identify aircraft that several televangelists are using. If you know the N-numbers of such aircraft, please contact us. Thank you for supporting our work. Confidential informants are always welcome.
(Photo: GFA World, formerly Gospel for Asia, at NRB’s 2021 Convention in Grapevine, Texas. Gospel for Asia has rebranded after facing a series of scandalous accusations and settling a $37 million lawsuit.)
Where have the televangelists gone?
The National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) annual convention was held this year in Grapevine, Texas, which is coincidentally the home of Benny Hinn Ministries.
Some of America’s best known televangelists (James Robison, Robert Morris, Marcus Lamb and Matthew Crouch) have homes within 10 miles of the Gaylord Texan Convention Center, home of the 2021 NRB Convention.
Yet, unsurprisingly, most televangelists and “Christian” TV networks were no-shows at the convention. Daystar Television Network, Inspirational Network and The Word Network stopped being convention exhibitors years ago. The ability to network over the Internet has dramatically reduced the need for in-person communication and the lingering effects of Covid-19 discourage large networking events in 2021.
If you thought televangelist shoes and watches are expensive, let us introduce you to the extravagant world of ministry aircraft. From the mundane to the exotic, we are tracking trips to ministry events and vacation destinations.
Trinity Foundation recently launched Pastor Planes, an investigative project, with the objective of bringing financial transparency to churches, ministries and Christian universities using privately owned aircraft.
Trinity Foundation is currently tracking 50 aircraft.
By our calculations, there are days when more than $100,000 is spent on private-jet and charter-jet travel by televangelists, ministry executives and Christian university personnel. In addition to the cost of purchasing or leasing aircraft, jet fuel, pilots’ salaries, inspections, repairs, insurance, landing fees, and hanger fees result in higher travel expenses.
Christian leaders are commanded to be good stewards of resources entrusted to them. 1 Corinthians 4:2 says, ”Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.”