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.”
(Photo: David Cerullo, president of Inspirational Network)
The accumulation of wealth by prosperity gospel promoting televangelist David Cerullo boggles the mind!
As president of Inspirational Network, David Cerullo has become one of America’s wealthier televangelists—a fact that is obscured by net worth tracking websites severely underestimating Cerullo’s wealth.
Net Worth Post estimates that Cerullo has a net worth of $900,000. Meanwhile, Idol Networth estimates Cerullo’s net worth to be $3.2 million, but neither website reveals how they reached such dubious conclusions.
In 2010, the Charlotte Observer reported, “With compensation exceeding $1.5 million a year, Cerullo is the best-paid leader of any religious charity tracked by watchdog groups.” Eleven years later, Cerullo remains the highest paid executive in MinistryWatch’s 100 Highly Paid Ministry Executives list.
Last week the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) published Inspirational Network’s 2019 Form 990, a financial disclosure document revealing total revenue, total expenses, and compensation of key employees. It shows that Cerullo received more than $3 million in 2019 bonuses, pushing total compensation to $7,319,371 for the year.
To create a big picture view of this ministry’s compensation, Trinity Foundation compiled a compensation spreadsheet of Cerullo, other family members working for the TV network and Dale Ardizzone, the network’s attorney.
Matthew Crouch, president of Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) has launched a massive restructuring of the world’s largest religious TV network.
Financial disclosure documents published last week on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website report that Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana (TCCSA), long the parent organization of TBN, and other affiliated organizations transferred $860,132,250 in assets to Trinity Broadcasting of Texas in 2019.
The Texas-based non-profit also reported $30 million in donations, $24 million in revenue from selling airtime, and $17 million of investment income. Total revenue for the year was $933,330,134!
In 2020, Trinity Broadcasting of Texas received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loan of $3,308,005. Congress authorized the Small Business Administration to create the program to help small businesses retain employees during the Covid-19 pandemic.
While applying for the PPP loan, applicants were required to certify the following statement: “Current economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the Applicant.”
Was this loan necessary to guarantee ongoing operations? Trinity Broadcasting of Texas began 2020 with $878 million worth of net assets. Should a non-profit this large qualify for a loan for small businesses?
Trinity Broadcasting of Texas was able to qualify for the loan because it had less than 500 employees.
Televangelist Ernest Angley, pastor of Grace Cathedral in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, died last week at 99 years of age.
Controversy surrounded the prosperity gospel preaching faith healer.
A former church member told The Akron Beacon Journal that Angley said, “It’s against God’s will for anyone to have a child.” The newspaper reported pregnant church members were pressured to have abortions and men were pressured to get vasectomies. Angley also reportedly inspected genitals of male church members.
In 2004, Angley created a shell corporation in Aruba named Crestwind Aviation to acquire a Boeing 747SP jet, one of the largest televangelist jets in the world. Its only known rival would be an Airbus used by Eduardo Manalo’s Iglesia ni Cristo. Angley’s jet would be used a couple of times a year for mission trips to Africa.
Crestwind Aviation shows up in the Offshore Leaks Database, which raises an important question for Trinity Foundation investigators. Did Angley engage in international money laundering? Aruba was a hub for this activity.
In 2019, the Akron Beacon Journal reported, “Add in landing fees, maintenance and other related costs and, if Angley takes three trips a year averaging 16,000 miles round trip, the annual operating cost is about $2.16 million.” The jet was estimated to have cost $26 million when it was purchased. Before the jet was sent to an airplane graveyard, it cost $240,000 to fill the jet’s gas tanks.
Video of the jet, which Angley named Star Triple Seven, can be viewed on YouTube.
In his autobiography Hurry Friday! Angley wrote,”Thousands attend my services in other countries, acres and acres of people in one service. Thousands are saved, healed, delivered and baptized in the Holy Ghost. From all manner of death diseases they are delivered, including HIV/AIDS. Medical evidence proves they are healed.”
If Angley could really heal people of AIDS, why didn’t he perform healing services in hospitals?
Instead, Angley became comedy fodder for comedians, talk show hosts and documentaries as Angley would repeatedly say the word “heal” with a weird accent.
Sadly, Angley’s legacy is no laughing matter. Please join us in praying for the emotional and spiritual wellbeing of Angley’s victims, family, friends and church members.
Four of Universal Church of the Kingdom of God’s leaders have been indicted in Angola, Africa, for money laundering.
The Brazil-based church is exporting the prosperity gospel into Africa much like America’s televangelists.
Church founder Edir Macedo is the owner of Brazilian TV Network RecordTV and a bank. Macedo is copying the lifestyle of America’s most notorious televangelists by owning his own fleet of jets and a helicopter.
Revista Forum reported, “Macedo’s right-hand man and former artistic vice president of Rede Record, Bishop Honorilton Gonçalves da Costa, was indicted” along with “Angolan Bishop Antonio Pedro Correia da Silva, former president of the church in the country, and pastors Valdir de Sousa dos Santos and Fernando Henriques Teixeira.”
In 2020, Rio de Janeiro’s Public Prosecutor’s Office and Brazil’s Financial Activities Control Board accused church leaders of laundering $1 billion – i.e. using fake companies to pass funds through different accounts abroad and then returning them in the form of loans.
In 2008, Edir Macedo was arrested but not convicted of embezzling $2 billion which was allegedly laundered.
One of televangelist Benny Hinn’s financial secrets was revealed in a recent court ruling: The prosperity gospel is not working for Hinn. World Healing Center Church (WHCC), better known as Benny Hinn Ministries, has been struggling with debt for 15 years.
In an April 7th United States District Court ruling, Judge Alvin Hellerstein granted summary judgment on behalf of Mail America Communications Inc. which sued WHCC for breach of contract. Before the lawsuit was filed in September 2018, WHCC owed the direct mail company $2,993,221.74.
Judge Hellerstein also required WHCC to pay 4% interest on the unpaid balance and attorney’s fees.
The judge’s amended order provides insight into the finances of Hinn’s organization and confirms rumors that Trinity Foundation investigators have heard though the grapevine. Hellerstein wrote, “For nearly 15 years, Defendant had been falling behind its payment obligations, with over $5.6 million in arrears by early 2012.”
After pleading guilty to embezzling church funds, Lara Ford, former business manager and staff services manager at Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, has been sentenced to ten years in prison with the opportunity for early release after serving six months.
An August 26, 2019 updated police report indicated a “total loss of $1,377,14.76” … but the total continued to grow as the investigation continued. Ford’s attorney Lex Johnson told The Roys Report that more than $1.6 million was stolen.
According to the police report, Ford “made transfers to her own checking accounts once or twice a month for the past 7 to 8 years. The amounts were reportedly between $1500 and $1700.”
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 also stole cash from offerings and embezzled money from the church’s housing allowance account, which raises additional questions. According to the police report, Fellowship Church used Automatic Data Processing LLC (ADP) to manage “some of the church’s payroll, mainly the housing allowance about 30 employees receive.”
Is the clergy housing allowance being abused? Are non-clergy employees receiving housing allowances?
In the introduction to the book Faith-Based Fraud, author Warren Cole Smith, president of MinistryWatch, asks an important question: “Why do faith-based frauds continue to recur?”
Smith documents the massive increase in independent, non-denominational churches in America, the toxic spread of the prosperity gospel and a decline in financial transparency in both churches and ministries.
Smith notes that bad theology leads to corrupt behavior: “faith-based fraud is almost always predictable, and bad theology is that predictor.”
Throughout the book, Smith skillfully interweaves stories and commentary to explain how ponzi schemes operate and book authors buy their way onto The New York Times Bestseller List.
As a journalist at World Magazine, Smith investigated pastor Mark Driscoll’s use of church funds to purchase 11,000 copies of his book Real Marriage. Smith’s investigation of Todd Bentley’s alleged healings is also retold in Faith-Based Fraud.
Another story told is how the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy’s founder John Bennett fraudulently raised millions of dollars from Christian institutions by claiming anonymous donors would match their donations.
Smith interviewed Albert Meyer, the curious part-time professor at Spring Arbor College that uncovered Bennett’s fraud by asking questions. Smith writes, “And those questions amount to little more than, ‘Where did the money come from?’ and ‘Where did it go?’”
Christians should not be afraid to ask questions of religious leaders. Jesus set an example for us by questioning his disciples. After Judas arrived with the Roman soldiers to arrest the Messiah, Jesus said, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”
Megachurches and ministries are receiving a second round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loans.
In January, Harvest Bible Chapel received a $2 million loan. Last year the scandal-ridden megachurch received $2,556,200.
In March, Ed Young Jr’s Fellowship Church received $1,520,345, the same amount it received in 2020.
In April, The Relentless Church, pastored by televangelist John Gray, received $1,062,500. The church received $1,250,000 last year.
But do these churches really need forgivable loans which amount to government aid? Recently Ed Young Jr. sold his beach house for a reported $5.5 million.
Gray purchased his wife a $200,000 Lamborghini in December 2018. A month later the Greenville News reported, “Gray was living in a $1.8 million home that was bought by the church in October. Church leaders said the Relentless-owned home was needed to attract a leader of Gray’s caliber.”
To assist small businesses and non-profit organizations in retaining employees during the Covid-19 pandemic, last year Congress passed the CARES Act.
The legislation authorized the Small Business Administration to offer forgiveable loans to small businesses and non-profit organizations so they could retain employees during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In December, Trinity Foundation reported, “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.”
The forgivable loans have attracted an alarming number of scammers. Two cases involving religious organizations have received significant media attention. MinistryWatch reported that ASLAN International, a ministry in Florida, received an $8.4 million loan and then purchased a $3.7 million home. According to The Roys Report, Maryland pastor Rudolph Brooks Jr. purchased 39 cars after his church received a $1.5 million loan.
So far, $740 billion in PPP loans have been approved by the Small Business Administration.
2021 Paycheck Protection Program Loan Recipients
Associated Christian Television System – $185,026
Harvest Bible Chapel led by Dr. Jeff Bucknam – $2 million
Total Living International operates Total Living Network – $221,100
The Relentless Church led by televangelist John Gray – $1,062,500
Hillsong NYC LLC – $710, 877
Hillsong Events LLC – $207,919
Hillsong Channel LLC – $228,797
Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association led by televangelist Richard Roberts – $369,235
Churchome led by Pastor Judah Smith – $1,570,313
Fellowship Church led by televangelist Ed Young Jr. – $1,520,345
Ole Anthony, 82, president of Dallas-based Trinity Foundation Inc. and a thorn in the side of “prosperity gospel” televangelists, died Friday, April 16, 2021.
He was known as a fierce critic of TV preachers like Robert Tilton, Benny Hinn and Jan and Paul Crouch, and was often seen in news interviews critiquing their lavish lifestyles.
Anthony also served as the founding elder of a small congregation that modeled itself on first-century Christianity in lifestyle and mission, meeting in homes and gathering often. In the 1990s the foundation began the Dallas Project, taking homeless people into the homes of members and encouraging other religious groups to do the same. The church continues to provide low-cost housing for needy families on the East Dallas block where many of the members live.
After finding that some of these desperate people had been persuaded to give money to TV preachers, Anthony started to look into the lifestyles and fraudulent behavior of local pastors like Tilton and W. V. Grant.
Trinity Foundation eventually obtained a private investigator license and gained a reputation as a valued source for investigative journalists. For more than 30 years Anthony was a frequently interviewed expert on religious broadcasting, consulted by major newspapers, national TV news programs and the international press. Our foundation continues to be a resource for those investigating religious fraud worldwide.
From the early 1990s through the 2000s, Anthony and Trinity Foundation were involved in high-profile investigations (and lawsuits) involving Tilton, Grant, Hinn and the Crouches as well as many other TV preachers and megachurch ministries. From 2007 to 2010 the foundation assisted the Senate Finance Committee in its national investigation of televangelist abuses.
Besides monitoring religious broadcasting, Anthony led daily Bible studies in the East Dallas Christian community that was formed out of a study group he led in the mid-1970s. The resulting community was small, never exceeding 60 members, but its influence was wide.