Court Case Updates

The Covid-19 pandemic has delayed the courts from hearing numerous court cases. A year ago, Trinity Foundation shared a list of eight court cases we are monitoring. Our list is growing as more lawsuits have been filed against religious organizations.

In May 2020, we reported that a panel of judges upheld televangelist Todd Coontz’s conviction of tax evasion. Then justice got delayed again. Coontz appealed his conviction to the United States Supreme Court which finally denied his appeal on February 22, 2021.

In 2018, Mail America Communications sued Benny Hinn, alleging the televangelist’s World Healing Center Church owed the publisher almost $3 million. Oral arguments are scheduled for April 7, 2021.

National Outreach Foundation Inc. (NOFI), one of the few non-profit organizations to have its tax-exempt status revoked by the IRS in 2020, has sued the federal government in US Tax Court.

NOFI is operated by a husband-and-wife team with no additional independent board members or employees. Therefore, no oversight is available for the organization.

In 2017, NOFI generated $62,185,730 in revenue and spent only $425,125 in grants to charitable organizations. Therefore, less than 1% of revenue was spent on charity. If NOFI were a private charity it would be required to pay out at least 5% annually of its total assets.

 

Trinity Foundation Investigation: $78.6 Million in Government Guaranteed Loans Given to Televangelists

 

For months, Trinity Foundation has investigated televangelists receiving Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans. Our findings:

  • At least $78.6 million in loans were given to religious TV networks, independent religious TV stations, TV preachers, and churches/media ministries with national TV programs.  The total would exceed $82 million if we include churches with 24/7 streaming channels in the same class as television.
  • Trinity Broadcasting of Texas received a loan of $3.3 million even though its parent organization may have close to $500 million invested in securities.

Continue reading “Trinity Foundation Investigation: $78.6 Million in Government Guaranteed Loans Given to Televangelists”

Inside Edition Examines Vacation Use of Televangelist Jet

Daystar Television — An exposé of Marcus and Joni Lamb’s usage of Daystar Television Network’s Gulfstream V business jet aired this afternoon on Inside Edition with a little help from Trinity Foundation.  A small portion of our extensive database of televangelist ministry aircraft and flight log data came in handy.  The program showed a couple of Lamb family social media posts—one talking about “our amazing fam on Vacay” and another “memories made on their family beach vacation”.

In a brief, brisk walking interview with reporter Lisa Guerrero, Marcus Lamb told Lisa that yes, there was a vacation but that they had several meetings with ministers while there.  After being approved for a Corona Virus related paycheck protection (“PPP”) loan guaranteed by the US government, Daystar purchased the Gulfstream jet; however, Mr. Lamb stated that none of that PPP money went toward the purchase of the jet.

 

 

Investigative Reporters Examine Religious Fraud Across Latin America

An ambitious investigation of religious fraud cases shows that religious leaders are rarely prosecuted, and churches are increasingly participants in money laundering.

The Cross-Borders Data Project at Columbia University has partnered with journalists across Latin America to investigate religious fraud. Journalists examined more than 60 investigations and court cases where churches or religious leaders were suspected of committing crimes. Continue reading “Investigative Reporters Examine Religious Fraud Across Latin America”

Brazilian Church Accused of Money Laundering $1 Billion

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, founded by controversial pastor Edir Macedo, has been accused of money laundering again. The accusations come from Rio de Janeiro’s Public Prosecutor’s Office and Brazil’s Financial Activities Control Board.

According to Brazilian news site Poder360, in one fiscal year, May 2018 to April 2019, at least 5.9 billion reals–approximately $1.093 billion in US dollars–moved through church bank accounts in a questionable manner.

So far, Edir Macedo has not been accused of participating in the new money laundering allegations. Instead, his nephew Mauro Macedo and Rio de Janeiro mayor Marcelo Crivella, a bishop in the Universal Church, are allegedly linked to the financial crimes.

Universal Church officials deny the allegations which they claim are politically motivated attacks.

In 2008, Edir Macedo was arrested but not convicted of embezzling $2 billion. After Edir Macedo’s arrest, the Associated Press reported, “The church allegedly used fake companies to launder the money, moving the assets abroad and then returning them in the form of loans used by Macedo and his accomplices to buy businesses, prosecutors said.”

Taxing Jerry Falwell’s Golden Parachute Payments (severance over $10M)

 


After analyzing Jerry Falwell Jr’s Liberty University compensation, Trinity Foundation estimates tax penalties of $1,530,383 on golden parachute payments of $10.5 million.

Excessive compensation is a scandalously common practice in many religious institutions that needs to be carefully researched and exposed. Continue reading “Taxing Jerry Falwell’s Golden Parachute Payments (severance over $10M)”

Televangelist Morris Cerullo Dead at 88

After preaching for 70 years, faith healer and televangelist Morris Cerullo has died at 88 years of age from pneumonia.

In the months before he died, Cerullo’s final project, a theme park and hotel, opened to the public. The Legacy International Center cost $190 million and featured a small replica of the Temple’s wailing wall, catacombs with large murals of Bible stories, and water fountains.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported, “Cerullo spared no expense on the $14.5 million, 100-seat theater located in the project’s Welcome Center that will house most of the Legacy Center’s attractions, many of which were conceived with the help of cutting-edge technology.” Continue reading “Televangelist Morris Cerullo Dead at 88”

Warning Signs When Reviewing Church or Ministry Financial Statements

 

Before donating to a particular organization, stop and consider a few warning signs first.

Trinity Foundation has spent several decades examining financial statements of religious organizations. There are common warning signs that show up on these documents that donors should be aware of. Sometimes accounting errors occur, but other times, warning signs may indicate fraud or deeper financial problems. If questions arise when reviewing a church financial statement or ministry Form 990, politely ask the organization’s leadership to address your concerns. Continue reading “Warning Signs When Reviewing Church or Ministry Financial Statements”

When the Church Parsonage Looks Like a Mansion

Televangelist Kenneth Copeland lives northwest of Fort Worth, Texas, near the shore of Eagle Mountain Lake in a “church parsonage” that can easily be described as a mansion or palace. The extravagant home fits Copeland’s theology as he teaches his church and TV audiences “to live like a king.”

Eagle Mountain International Church (EMIC) owns the 18,279 square-foot home currently appraised for $10,825,462. A road connects the home to the Kenneth Copeland Airport. Continue reading “When the Church Parsonage Looks Like a Mansion”

Jim Bakker Recovers From Stroke, His Comeback Dreams on Hold

               

Jim Bakker in his heyday (1980’s)              Jim Bakker on the Jim Bakker Show (from YouTube)

Televangelist Jim Bakker, a long-time target of investigations at Trinity Foundation, is recovering from a stroke. On May 8th, Bakker’s wife Lori posted the news on The Jim Bakker Show website:

“I wanted to share with you, our loving and caring partners, that Jim recently experienced a stroke. We are thankful that Jim is okay, and that he is now at home with our family. Under the guidance of medical professionals and our Board of Directors, Jim will be taking a sabbatical from the show. Jim will be back! He is still dreaming and hearing from the Lord, and he already has a powerful word to deliver when he returns to the air.” Continue reading “Jim Bakker Recovers From Stroke, His Comeback Dreams on Hold”