Keeping Secrets from Donors: Investigating the Trend of Evangelical Ministries Hiding Financial Data

(Photo: Pixabay)

Since 1998, evangelical ministries with combined assets of more than $700 million have stopped filing the Form 990 which discloses critical financial information for donors.

Media ministries are merging with churches or requesting the IRS reclassify themselves as churches or church integrated auxiliaries to avoid disclosing compensation of key leadership, legal expenses, and travel expenses because churches and similar organizations (synagogues and mosques) are exempt from filing.

In 2005, IRS Commissioner Mark Everson sent a letter to Senator Chuck Grassley claiming that because churches were not required to file an informational return, “we have little ability to monitor their operations against diversion of assets.”

The following spreadsheet features a list of 21 non-profits and trade names that are still operational along with the last fiscal year they filed a Form 990.

(Photo: Spreadsheet compiled by Trinity Foundation)

The trend may have begun with Jimmy Swaggart Ministries which merged with Family Worship Center Church in 1997. The ministry’s 990s from the mid-1990s are not available online.

After the merger, Swaggart’s church registered Jimmy Swaggart Ministries as a trade name. This allows the church to perform business and to have a bank account in the name of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries.

More recently, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) filed for a group exemption which was granted in 2014. The BGEA’s final 990 covering 2014 reported $258,677 in compensation for the ministry’s president Franklin Graham. BGEA no longer discloses Graham’s compensation. Also, in 2014 Graham received $629,821 in compensation from Samaritan’s Purse, another non-profit where he serves as president.

For donors concerned about excessive compensation, it is impossible to make informed decisions when compensation information is not available to the public.

Continue reading “Keeping Secrets from Donors: Investigating the Trend of Evangelical Ministries Hiding Financial Data”

Prophecy for Sale: “Prophets” Mimic Psychics, Charging up to $555 for Phone Call

(Photo: Prophet Passion Java preaching in Atlanta)

2,700 years ago, the Prophet Micah warned that “prophets tell fortunes for money.” (Micah 3:11 NIV) The business of prophecy selling still continues in 2024.

Panganai Java, the flamboyant Zimbabwe-born but Maryland-based preacher, better known as Prophet Passion Java, finances his lavish lifestyle by preaching the prosperity gospel and charging his followers $555 for phone calls.

Passion Java is well known for wearing expensive designer clothing and driving high performance sports cars while attracting scrutiny from Prophets and Watches. His Instagram account has 7.9 million followers.

On his website Passion Java promotes one on one phone calls for $555 and discloses there are no refunds. Testimonials on the website sound similar to ads for psychics: “I had a one on one with Papa Prophet Passion in August. He prophesied that within 6 months you will have your visa. My VISA has been approved by Canadian authorities.”

According to the prophet’s website, there is a long wait to receive a call from Passion Java: “Please be advised that after registering – one on ones are based on Prophet’s schedule. The average waiting time is 5-6 weeks but can fluctuate… Thank you for waiting in a timely manner as we are experiencing high volumes of registers.”

If Passion Java makes four calls a week, he will generate over $100,000 from phone calls in a year.

Continue reading “Prophecy for Sale: “Prophets” Mimic Psychics, Charging up to $555 for Phone Call”

Estimate: Christian Religious Leaders to Embezzle $86 Billion in 2024

The January issue of the International Bulletin of Mission Research (IBMR) reports that Christian religious leaders are estimated to embezzle $86 billion in 2024.

The disturbing statistic, which is easy to overlook, appears in Table 5 of the article “World Christianity 2024: Fragmentation and Unity” under the description “Ecclesiastical Crime.”

This estimate was compiled by data scientists Dr. Gina Zurlo, Dr. Todd Johnson, and Peter Crossing at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

IBMR has been publishing the annual estimate of ecclesiastical crime for decades. The statistic was born from the pioneering research of the late David Barrett, an editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia.

In 1983, Barrett authored the journal article “Silver and Gold Have I None: Church of the Poor or Church of the Rich?” which explored the financial state of Christian missions giving.

Continue reading “Estimate: Christian Religious Leaders to Embezzle $86 Billion in 2024”

Investigating the Parsonage Exemption: What Would Televangelists Pay if Houses Weren’t Tax Exempt?


(Photo: Inside Edition shows the outside of televangelist Ron Carpenter’s luxurious Fremont, California-parsonage.)

Background

Inside Edition recently investigated the topic of tax-exempt parsonages. The news report featured drone footage and pictures of some of America’s largest church-owned mansions.  Investigative reporter Lisa Guerrero attempted to interview televangelist Jesse Duplantis regarding his residence, but he refused to answer questions.

Associate Pastor and Political Scientist Ryan Burge told Inside Edition, “If you have a multi-million-dollar house, your property tax bill could be thirty, forty, fifty thousand dollars a year. But if it’s classified as a parsonage, now you don’t have to pay property taxes on that home. That $50,000 could pay the salary of an elementary school teacher in your local public school.”

The property-tax exemption on church and ministry-owned homes is governed by state laws. It differs from the parsonage housing allowance which was created by Congress and involves a tax exemption from the federal income tax.

In 2021, a Houston Chronicle investigation identified 28 parsonages in Texas worth more than $1 million.

Continue reading “Investigating the Parsonage Exemption: What Would Televangelists Pay if Houses Weren’t Tax Exempt?”

How Two Non-Profits Paid Over $103 Million to Companies Owned by Jay Sekulow and Sister-in-Law


(Photo: Jay Sekulow interviewed in ACLJ Chief Counsel Biography)

Attorney Jay Sekulow, who represented former President Donald Trump during his 2020 impeachment hearing and has argued religious liberty cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, seems to be playing a shell game with his financial dealings by using confusingly similar corporate names and leaving out big chunks of information in his non-profit 990 reports to the IRS.

In fact, in fifteen years, two non-profits Sekulow is associated with have paid over $103 million to for-profit companies owned by him and his sister-in-law.

Same Name Game

Jay Sekulow serves as president of Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (CASE), a non-profit organization with 13 employees, that fundraises with aggressive direct mail solicitation.

Jay Sekulow also serves as CEO for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).

Adding to the confusion, CASE uses the trade name/DBA “American Center for Law & Justice” and conducts fundraising with the trade name. Trinity Foundation describes this practice as the Same Name Game.

There is a very slight difference: The trade name contains an ampersand “&” while the ACLJ’s legal name doesn’t.

(Screenshot: from Page 1 of CASE 2022 Form 990)

When two different non-profit organizations use the same name, this can be problematic for donors, especially if the organizations have a different purpose.

Continue reading “How Two Non-Profits Paid Over $103 Million to Companies Owned by Jay Sekulow and Sister-in-Law”

Your Donation Enters You in Our Brazos River Getaway Raffle

(Photo: From top floor of fire tower overlooking the “Brazos de Dios” (arms of God) River)

 

April 10, 2024 Update

We would like to thank everyone that purchased a raffle ticket during our spring 2024 raffle fundraiser. Ann from Houston won a free 3-day / 3 night stay at a ranch on the Brazos River. The fundraiser for Trinity Foundation investigations raised almost $1,000 after expenses.

The drawing will be held on March 31st.

Corruption in the church continues to worsen, and we need your help to fight it.

Thank you for your gifts to Trinity Foundation. We believe you’re making a difference helping us expose the egregious misuse and huge waste of donor money while helping us provide a body of research available to the public via our investigative journalism. We estimate that for every $35 we receive, that amount “buys” roughly one hour of investigating (including occupancy, salaries, etc.).

And now, to the raffle drawing…

For a one-time gift of $100 we would like to enter your name in a drawing to receive a free 3-day / 3 night stay for up to five people at a Texas ranch on the Brazos River about an hour west of Fort Worth, plus $250 to the winner to help pay for food. Enjoy stunning views in a four-floor fire lookout on a cliff above the scenic and historic Brazos. (link here). It is necessary to climb stairs here but those with mobility issues can choose the main ranch house if preferred. (link here). Winners must be able to provide their own transportation to and from the ranch, which is about 10 minutes from restaurants and grocery stores in Minieral Wells. The drawing will be held on March 31st and the drawing entries will be limited to 100 tickets.

If you want our newsletter the entry form is on our Home page to the right.  If you already subscribe, we appreciate your interest.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions about our investigations, if you would like to give us a tip about potential fraud, or if you know a victim of religious fraud that would like to speak with us.

The Role of Correctional Facilities in Preventing Religious Fraud

Photo by RDNE Stock project: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-bunk-bed-with-striped-linen-behind-bars-6064890/

Guest Article by Pamela Foster

In-Depth Exploration: The Harsh Reality of Religious Fraud

In the realm of religious organizations, revered as beacons of moral guidance, the incidence of financial fraud presents a jarring contradiction. It’s not just about the money; this breach of trust cuts to the heart of what these institutions stand for. We’ve got to face it squarely: strong oversight and proactive strategies are crucial to nip these problems in the bud.

Correctional Facilities: Beyond Punishment to Prevention

Correctional institutions, traditionally viewed as endpoints for the convicted, assume a crucial preventive role in religious fraud. Prisons act as a stark reminder that abusing funds meant for religious use carries heavy repercussions. Rehabilitation programs that educate can help shape ethical, transparent leaders.

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“God Told Me” to Pocket Cryptocurrency Invested Funds—a New Twist on Religious Affinity Fraud

(Photo: Pastor Eligio Regalado)

January 16th, 2024–Colorado State’s Attorney General charged Pastor Eligio Regalado, whose surname ironically can mean ‘Gifted’ or ‘Given’, his wife Kaitlyn (also goes by the name Kathy), and their companies INDXCOIN, LLC, KINGDOM WEALTH EXCHANGE INC, KINGDOM WEALTH EXCHANGE LLC, GRACE LED MARKETERS, LLC, etc. on (also goes by the name Kathy) with civil fraud for creating, marketing, and selling a cryptocurrency called INDXcoin and then spending over a third of the invested funds ($1.3 million) on themselves.

Regalado, who pastors the online only Victorious Grace Church, announced his plan last April and soon sold the crypto coins to his and other Christian communities in the Denver under the moniker “Kingdom Wealth Exchange, LLC”.  The project launched in June and then shut down in November.

We hope believers will take note and beware of religious affinity fraud. Affinity fraud leverages and exploits inherent trust within a group. For example, a fraudster may target a specific religious congregation. Oftentimes, the person will try to enlist the help of the leader of the group to market the investment scheme. In which case, the leader becomes an unwitting pawn in the fraudulent scheme. In this case, however, the pastor was the perpetrator.

One well-known example is Bernard Madoff who targeted Jewish communities.  It’s not just a cliché when we say there is more money stolen in the name of God than any other way.

Ms. Tung Chan, Securities Commissioner for Colorado, said “We allege that Mr. Regalado took advantage of the trust and faith of his own Christian community and that he peddled outlandish promises of wealth to them when he sold them essentially worthless cryptocurrencies.”

Commissioner Chan’s civil complaint against the Regalado couple claims that from June 2022 to April 2023, the ill-fated crypto exchange raised more than $3.2 million from over 300 investors and that the couple’s sales pitches were filled with “prayer and quotes from the Bible, encouraging investors to have faith that their investment … would lead to ‘abundance’ and ‘blessings.’”

INDX Coin began trading its cryptocurrency on June 22, 2023.  In its launch video that same day, “Pastor” Regalado said, “So this is the Kingdom Way, the Kingdom Way is to distribute even when you don’t have enough, trusting that God is going to multiply what you give thanks for.”

NOTE: This wishful thinking is one of the basic lies of the so-called “prosperity gospel.”

During INDXcoin’s launch video on Twitter/X, Regalado read Jesus’ miracle of feeding thousands of people with just a few loaves and fishes and applying this spectacular miracle to his Kingdom Wealth Exchange’s cryptocurrency.

Eli Regalado actually admitted to the theft in a video a few days after the charges were filed, saying, “The charges are that Kaitlyn and I pocketed 1.3 million dollars, and I just want to come out and say that those charges are true,” he said, adding, “A few hundred thousand dollars went to a home remodel that the Lord told us to do.”

Eli Regalado also said, “It’s not like we had $1 million sitting there and decided to go crazy with it”.  You judge. Commissioner Chan’s legal complaint states that investment proceeds went directly to defendants Eli and Kaitlyn, or was used for their own personal benefit, including jewelry, handbags and lavish vacations and other expenses.

The Regalado couple owns a house and a condo in Lakewood Colorado. The real estate website Redfin says the home is a “2,088 square foot house on a 3.24 acre lot with 4 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms” and that “This home is currently off market. Based on Redfin’s Lakewood data, we estimate the home’s value is $1,126,521.”  Redfin estimates the two-bedroom, two-bathroom, 837 square feet condo is worth $363,985.

Eligio Regalado incorporated the online church in 2020 and is its registered agent.  The articles of incorporation for the church say that “No part of the earnings of the corporation shall inure to the benefit of or be distributable to any private individual or person; provided, however, that the corporation may pay reasonable compensation …” These good intentions lasted less than two years.

Note that according to Commissioner Chan’s civil fraud complaint, Victorious Grace Church has only two employees (Defendants Eli and Kaitlyn) and operates from the Regalado’s house, their recreational vehicle, or from the Regalado’s vacation destinations.

Earlier this month, we published a video about red flags to look out for and here are some we covered plus another one that time didn’t allow us to address:

  • Beware if a person claims to hear from God about what others should do.
  • Beware if a person believes he or she claims they have God’s favor to perform miracles.
  • Beware if a person comes up with a way to raise money for others and then spends it on themselves.
  • Beware if a person tells others they will become wealthy if they give or invest in a certain organization supposedly ordained of God.
  • Beware of online only, TV only, or mail-order-only churches with no actual membership who can, as it happens, literally meet in person.

Many major news outlets reported on the story.

People Magazine: Denver Pastor Says ‘the Lord Told Him’ to Steal $1.3 M from Christians to Remodel Home

CNN: A Colorado pastor says God told him to launch a crypto venture. He’s now accused of pocketing $1.3 million from his followers

BBC: Colorado pastor accused of multimillion dollar crypto scheme

LAW&CRIME: The lord told us to’: Online pastor says God told him to ‘pocket’ $1.3M after charges filed in alleged cryptocurrency scam

We ask our readers a question?  Do you think the Regalados should sell their expensive house and move into their two-bedroom condo and distribute the proceeds of the sale to the defrauded investors?

The answer is obvious.

Assets of Ministry’s Holding Company Increase by $501 Million, CEO and Family Paid Over $11 Million

(Photo: David Cerullo, president of The Inspirational Network)

The Inspirational Network’s latest Form 990 Information Return is filled with bombshells for anyone interested in following the money of religious and secular TV broadcasting. Two bombshells stand out: Extravagant compensation for executives and massive assets buried in fine print.

David Cerullo, CEO of The Inspirational Network which operates the western-themed INSP cable TV channel (religious programming airs in the middle of the night), is ranked as one of America’s highest paid religious non-profit CEOs.

In 2022, Cerullo received $9 million in compensation, doubling the income he received in 2021.

In 15 years, from 2008 through 2022, David Cerullo received $59 million in compensation from The Inspirational Network and related organizations.

For four consecutive years David Cerullo has ranked at the top of MinistryWatch’s annual list of highly paid ministry executives.

David Cerullo’s wife Barbara and son Benjamin also appear on the MinistryWatch list by serving as executives at The Inspirational Network.

The following screenshot shows 2022 compensation for the three Cerullo  family members. The total compensation paid to the Cerullos for 2022 is $11,116,432.

By comparing compensation reported in 2021, shown in the screenshot below, it is clear that Benjamin Cerullo’s compensation also doubled and Barbara Cerullo’s compensation dramatically increased.

David Cerullo also serves as president of Morris Cerullo World Evangelism (MCWE) which was founded by his father. MCWE does not file a Form 990 as it claims to be a church. Therefore, it is unknown if MCWE also pays David Cerullo a salary.

The second highest paid executive at The Inspirational Network is general counsel and corporate secretary Dale Ardizzone who was paid $3,227,671 in 2022.

Most compensation for Ardizzone and David and Barbara Cerullo come from related organizations of The Inspirational Network.

Continue reading “Assets of Ministry’s Holding Company Increase by $501 Million, CEO and Family Paid Over $11 Million”

False Prophets: Televangelists Red Flags to See and Avoid

At the heart of this new almost ten-minute video is our late founder of Trinity Foundation calling for transparency and accountability.  We hope you’ll share it with others.  It deals with red flags to watch out for when encountering charities and non-profits—especially churches or church-related organizations.

We believe you can share this with anyone who is concerned about these snakes in the grass who keep asking for more money and spending huge quantities of it on themselves.

When a church or ministry collapses from scandal, followers often pick up on missed clues.  Some of these clues or red flags to watch out for include high pressure to donate right away, ministry leaders describing their own wealth and/or God’s promised wealth to individuals, false prophesies, and twisted scriptures trying to prove that God needs your money—care of their ministry of course.

Do you ever wonder why televangelists never suggest that you to pick up your cross or be content with the things you have?  These messages are never popular with the masses and come in direct conflict with the American Dream—with mankind’s own inherent greed.

Television programming time slots are quite expensive but also quite lucrative.  It’s Darwinian in nature.  Only the most successful con-artists who can raise the most money from their audiences can maintain their presence on TV.  These include pastors with the best entertainment value, the best music, or the most outrageous actors.

Instead of the true gospel, it has become a kind of anti-gospel which is not really a gospel at all.  It’s little more than a caricature of the truth to tickle one’s ears attempting to maintain a person’s interest.  Please share this video with anyone who cares about the victims of these scammers or with the victims themselves if they are open to watch it.

At the end of the video comes a dream about the Lion of the Tribe of Judah—Christ himself.