• How much money is involved in religious fraud?
According to the respected academic journal International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Christian religious leaders alone will commit an estimated $63 billion in financial fraud in 2018 — constantly outpacing the billions spent by Christians on global missions — estimated at $56 billion this year. Another estimate from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (from 2011) says Christian religious leaders commit $90 million in financial crimes daily, and the fraud is growing at a rate of 5.97% each year. The International Bulletin also estimated, ecclesiastical crime among Christians will hit approximately $80 billion annually by 2025.
• What are the different ways fraudulent ministries get funds?
False “Needs.” For example, Dallas-based televangelist W.V. Grant raised a lot of cash claiming at one time to be supporting dozens of orphanages in the Caribbean but in reality was giving insignificant amounts of money to only one orphanage that he used for photo ops.
False testimonials. Fabricated reports of healings or financial miracles are broadcast and printed in order to induce donors to give money. For example, we’ve helped in a series of investigations that revealed people claiming to be miraculously healed by televangelist Benny Hinn were later found to be still sick or had never had that ailment. Even more blatant are the appeals generated by Gene Ewing and his fake St Matthew’s Churches sent mostly to people living in poverty. They report testimonials of people who gave donations and later were blessed by God-given windfalls, but their last names are never used.
“Seed Faith” Donations. Viewers and readers are given the impression that if they give a small amount of ‘seed’ or ‘seed money’ to God, then God is obligated to either heal their loved one or to bless them financially and reward donors ‘tit for tat’, times a multiplied factor of ten to one hundred. People in poverty are especially vulnerable to this appeal.
• But specifically, how does this break the law?
Inurement. This is a term used by the IRS to describe excessive compensation and personal benefits derived from a non-profit organization — a massive amount of money given by well meaning donors is intercepted by the organization’s hierarchy to be used for their own private benefit. This includes such things as huge salaries, large housing allowances, “parsonages” that are mansions, ministry aircraft (often private corporate jets that become personal airliners for a pastor’s vacations), enormous clothing allowances, luxury cars, unregulated ministry credit card usage, ministry ranches “for the pastors devotional time”, etc.
For example, televangelists travel like rock stars. Their demands for an appearance can include a five-figure honorarium, a $10,000 gasoline deposit for the private plane, a manicurist and hairstylist for the speaker, a suite in a five-star hotel, a late-model luxury car from the airport to the hotel and room-temperature Perrier.
They attempt to justify large salaries by citing dubious “independent” compensation studies. Many of these studies were prepared by Justin Osteen, brother of Houston mega-church pastor Joel Osteen. A lawyer representing many of these religious leaders listed Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Ed Young and Creflo Dollar as examples of clients of Osteen, and stated that Justin Osteen “represents most of the million-dollar-plus salary clientele in the nation.”
Conversion. Another IRS term that describes creating for-profit companies to benefit from non-profit organizations. The leadership of the non-profit ministries are the same individuals controlling and benefitting from the for-profit entities. Their right hand is giving to their left hand, so to speak. One example: the Copeland Cattle Ranch recently grazed its cattle and horses on their own church’s land, Eagle Mountain International Church, run by Kenneth Copeland Ministries. Another example: Joni Lamb, vice-president of the Daystar Television Network, recently wrote a book, published by her for-profit company, Joni Lamb Publications, and then sold the copies to her non-profit TV network.
• So why hasn’t the government stopped these practices?
Absolute Church Status. The IRS makes a distinction between non-profit organizations and non-profit churches when it comes to financial disclosure of information. Our tax code gives an additional advantage to churches by not requiring them to file the IRS Form 990, an informational form which helps donors know where their money is going and how it is used. Many large multi-million dollar ministries who once filed the form 990 have claimed church status in order to avoid facing public scrutiny about the money and potential scandal. In most of these cases only a miniscule part of the organization is related to religious worship. The Daystar Television Network is the 2nd largest “Christian” television network in the world, boasting a worldwide footprint transmitted from numerous satellites. The TV conglomerate claims to own 70 television stations, yet it claims to be a church and makes no financial information available to the public.
Overwhelming Numbers, Scant Oversight. There are almost 600,000 churches in the United States alone. The Guide Star website boasts a database of 1.8 million non-profit organizations. The Charlotte Observer reported, “the IRS office that monitors nonprofits is so thinly staffed it examines just 1 percent of their returns.” We believe it’s less than that. The paper went on to say that, “from 2005 to 2008, the number of charities filing returns with the IRS increased by 38 percent, according to data from the National Center for Charitable Statistics. But staffing in the IRS branch that monitors nonprofits declined over that period… About 460 people in that office are responsible for enforcement (as of 2009). That works out to roughly one enforcement agent for every 4,000 tax-exempt groups nationally.”
Weak Enforcement. Federal Law actually prohibits non-profits from awarding excessive compensation to their leaders; but, according to the Charlotte Observer, “Regulators rarely enforce the rules that do exist. Most years, fewer than 10 of the nearly two million U.S. nonprofit leaders are penalized for receiving excessive compensation.”… “The IRS can impose fines – known as “excise taxes” – on nonprofit leaders found to be receiving excessive pay or benefits… But in reality, that rarely happens. Since 2003, the IRS has taken that step about 10 times a year on average.” “The (IRS) criteria for excessive compensation are so loose that they’re virtually worthless…,” says Pablo Eisenberg, a senior fellow at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. “The sky’s the limit.”
No Political Will. In 2007 the IRS asked the Senate to investigate these activities. Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Senate Finance Committee wrote letters to the six televangelists, asking that they “disclose their assets, spending practices, compensation plans and business arrangements.” In 2008, the committee was about to serve subpoenas that would have better exposed the problem to public awareness. At the last minute they punted. Grassley asked the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) to form a committee to try to deal with the problem. But this is analogous to asking the Girl Scouts to audit Enron. The ECFA is too close to the problem, and many of its clients have too much to lose. A task force created by ECFA, containing some folks inter-connected with the very televangelists Grassley had investigated, ended up recommending we maintain the status quo. Yikes!
Complain to the FCC. Unlike newspapers and other media, television and radio depend on using airwaves that belong to all of us. The Federal Communications Commission is charged with regulating these broadcasts in the public interest.
Canada has a law that any claims over the airwaves have to be verifiable. We’d like to see the American public join in a nationwide discussion of the merits of that option. In 1993, Ole Anthony of our Trinity Foundation met with the Energy and Commerce Committee to try to get them to adopt the Canadian code. Unfortunately at the time, Republicans thought this would alienate their Christian voter base.
Write the FCC to express your outrage at allowing this fraud to continue to be broadcast.
Chairman Ajit Pai (currently appointed by Trump, also served under Obama)
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554
or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tighten local restrictions. Many cities have laws that require those who solicit more than 50 people to obtain a license from the city. TV and radio preachers, with massive direct mail campaigns, are routinely breaking those laws. Voters could urge their city government to tighten those restrictions.
Complain to State Comptroller or Attorney General. Many of the televangelists say they’re raising money for a certain project, then use the money for something else– sometimes to buy property or items in their own name. People should urge their state comptrollers and the IRS to target these operations for tax violations.
Call us at 214-827-2625. If you or someone you know has been a victim of a fraudulent ministry, call us and we’ll consult with you, take down the information and refer you to resources in your area. If you have information about religious fraud, please call the same number.
Urge your church, religious organization or non-profit to take a stand. Write your congressman or a letter to the editor. Rock the boat.
Encourage your church to reach out to the poor and needy in your own community who are the most frequently victimized by these ministries.
Support groups like Trinity Foundation who are monitoring these excesses.
23 thoughts on “Frequently Asked Questions”
E de fato impressionante como o evangelho esta sendo banalizada.
Gods Wisdom is Teaching us the Reality that People are Selfish and People would do anything to make a Buck but jesus said that The Love of Money is the Root of all Evils . Jim Bakker is Selling Food to People all over the World for over $3050 To the Ministry and Jim Bakker said that the Love of Money is the Root of all Evil but he Build a House Called Lauries House which is a Place for Mothers who have Babies where their Husbands and Boyfriends Leave the Woman to Take Care of the Babies and these Young Mothers can not afford to Support their Children and Jim Bakker did a Good thing to Help Young Mothers from Getting an Abortions
My name Daphne Starks having problems trying finds partment somelegalhelpfundswithplacetogo
If you would like to email us your situation and specific need we will see if we are able to find some resources for you. Trinity@trinityfi.org or you can call us (214) 827-2625.
I have proof in hand but am unsure of who to contact. I’m appalled at the amount of money at a private school in Texas. Seems like a catholic church has plenty of people in their pocket paid off.
I am aware the government can not touch a non profit religious organizations however isn’t there a law to protect people from ponzi and pyramid schemes. The ones who preforms schemes in order to get money from unaware people are actually crossing the line from being a wholesome non profit religious establishment right into breaking the law. according to https://www.ftc.gov/public-statements/1998/05/pyramid-schemes… “They promise consumers or investors large profits based primarily on recruiting others to join their program, not based on profits from any real investment or real sale of goods to the public.” Those preachers/leaders who offer something from God that is never backed up and proven is in fact not from God but they are using God to trick people that are desperate and in need of something therefore sending loads of money to these kind of preachers in hopes they would be blessed. The only way these kind of preachers have what they have because of two reasons. One is they know the biggest majority of people who attend their churches are seeking something they can not find on their own, another reason is people are allowing themselves to be tricked into supporting these kind of preachers. If people (attendees) read their own Bible and ask The Holy Spirit for guidance instead of relying on today’s preachers these preachers would absolutly come undone. They would become angry because they would no longer be supported. I think there needs to be a way to show how these mega preachers or anyone of likeness be proven they crossed the line stepping right into breaking the law. It is kind of like legalizing gay marriage but it is against the law to preform sodomy. These kind of preachers were predicted to come and people need to be warned and told to get away from them. (Matthew 24: 4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. KJV)
Dear Tina, Yes, there are laws against pyramid schemes and we agree, much of the televangelist world operates like pyramid schemes do, only the preachers are the ones who become “blessed” (the only ones who prosper financially); however, its difficult to prove fraud with a church due to the lack of public financial information (their organizations are usually registered as churches) and not too many prosecutors are willing to prosecute them. Please feel free to call me at the Trinity Foundation if you have any questions or concerns.
How much money do you all take in each year from contributions? How much goes to salaries and personal business? Where can I find your financial statements?
Good question Sally. Ole, president of the Trinity Foundation has not taken a salary for over 4 years (he’s living mainly on his social security income). Before that he earned $4800 (plus a room) per year, the same as myself and two other employees. No private businesses are connected in any way to the foundation. Our financial statements, our IRS forms 990, can be found on our “About Us” and also on our “Donate” page under “Financial Disclosure”.
Sally , are you part of the scams, or are you one of the scammed? And I am not part of this site. But i am one who would like to see all these crooks in jail. And to quit taking money from people… who cant see the fraud.
It breaks my heart that these charlatans operate so freely in the world. God really does heal today, He really does miracles today, He really operates in this world today. And you do NOT have to pay for His blessing, contrary to what is preached endlessly on the so-called Christian networks.
I can’t really put my finger on most of these preachers’ misstatements about scripture, however I just feel in my spirit that they aren’t ‘right’. Some of these preachers will have ‘prophets’ come on their shows acting for all intents and purposes as psychics (predicting the future, calling out a name, the person’s address, etc.). Then ask to be given an amount to receive a blessing in return. This is completely unscriptural.
I’ve even heard preachers call parishioners ‘thieves’ because they aren’t tything, or are tything less than 10% of their income. Insisting that we are ‘stealing’ from God – wow – that hit my spirit so powerfully that it was false, I can’t even watch that preacher anymore. In fact, I’m so disturbed by the majority of these televangelists that I can’t really watch the majority of them at all, I feel so strongly they are deceivers.
So few are legitimate, it’s alarming. I attribute this alarming trend to the great ‘falling away’ which has to happen in the last days, as given in the Bible, and it would appear these groups are a part of it.
I don’t know the answers, I just want the truth, and integrity from church leaders. This all begs the question how many televangelists and others making appearances on Christian TV are ACTUALLY following Christ as disciples? Are there any?
Many thanks for your thoughtful response and you are absolutely correct in trusting the guidance of the Holy Spirit about the doctrinal error you are hearing from these TV preachers. Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed was about the seed of Christ planted in us NOT about our money, and about him living his life through us as we get out of the way (as we deny/abandon ourselves and pick up the cross/see ourselves as already dead and him alive in us). I can’t answer your question, “Are there any (televangelists who follow Christ)? I often wonder. “Christian” TV is a spiritual wasteland for the most part. You nailed it when you attributed this to the great “falling away” in these last days. If you are interested in hearing the preaching of the cross on a regular basis, you are welcome to avail yourself of our morning meeting bible study podcasts on our sister organization’s website, communityoncolumbia.org . God bless, Pete–admin.
Do you only go after televangelists or do you investigate any religion? I’m asking because one religion that’s raising eyebrows right now for financial irregularities is the Church of Scientology. Do you plan to look into them?
While we don’t limit our investigations to any one religion, we currently have our hands full with the group we are actively investigating but if you have any information you would like to send us on the the Church of Scientology we will look at it.
Help. I’ve been afflicted with a condition that is being ignored in the US. I seriously have this thought daily: I want to donate my body to research on this EMF sensitivity, so I’m thinking suicide is not an option. I’ve sown seeds and asked every TV preacher I am familiar with to pray. It hit me so hard when I heard things about some of these TV preachers whom I had believed in. I’ve lost direction and I just want to lay down and die.
I’m sorry it took so long to respond. We should check our comments’ section more often. Please do not lose faith. How much money did you donate to preachers before you realized they were taking advantage of you? You may email email@example.com if you wish. We cannot get your money back, your suffering and your story could very well help other’s in the future.
1 John 4:1, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
While I feel sorry for people who give/have given to these ministries (tv and otherwise), the onus is on themselves for not being spiritually discerning. Many people who identify themselves as (born again/saved) Christians, don’t study the Word and are, for the most part, biblically illiterate, therefore believing whatever these charlatan “ministers” tell them. In addition, there are also those who choose to support these ministries because they are carnally like-minded with these charlatans, and deliberately buy-in to this prosperity bunk; expecting God to make them rich, and grant the worldly desires of their hearts (no matter that it doesn’t line up with the wisdom and will of The Father).
Here’s a good article to read regarding spiritual discernment: https://www.gotquestions.org/test-the-spirits.html