Friday, March 23, 2012

Trouble in telereligion land--again

Once again the realm of "prosperity gospel" has come into the strong spotlight.

"Suit alleges financial fraud at TBN ministry"

A legal battle involving a former high-ranking insider shines rare light on the Trinity Broadcasting Network finances.


Christopher Goffard

March 23rd, 2012

Los Angeles Times

The Trinity Broadcasting Network, which bills itself as the world's largest Christian network, is embroiled in a legal battle involving allegations of massive financial fraud and lavish spending, including the purchase of a $100,000 motor home for family dogs.

Brittany Koper, a former high-ranking TBN official and the granddaughter of its co-founder, Paul Crouch Sr., was fired by the network in September after discovering "illegal financial schemes" amounting to tens of millions of dollars, according to a lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court.

"She blew the whistle and got terminated," said attorney Tymothy MacLeod, who filed the suit on behalf of Joseph McVeigh, the uncle of Koper's husband, Michael Koper, who was himself a high-ranking TBN officer.

"Brittany has done the right thing. It's admirable that someone on the inside of TBN has come forward and is revealing to the world exactly what is going on behind those closed doors," MacLeod said. "No good deed goes unpunished at TBN."

The legal battle offers a rare glimpse into the private affairs of TBN, which is headquartered in an opulent compound near South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.

In his suit, McVeigh alleges that TBN maliciously sued him last year in an attempt to retaliate against Brittany Koper.

McVeigh's lawsuit alleges that Brittany Koper was promoted to the position of TBN's finance director in July because the network directors needed someone "within the family" to keep its financial "skeletons" hidden.

The lawsuit alleges that Paul Crouch Sr. obtained a $50-million Global Express luxury jet for his personal use through a "sham loan," and that TBN funds paid for a $100,000 motor home for dogs owned by his wife, Janice Crouch, a network director.

The suit also alleges that TBN bought residences across the country for its directors under the pretext that they were "guest homes" or "church parsonages." The properties include mansions used by the Crouch family in Newport Beach; side-by-side mansions in Windermere, Fla.; and homes in Nashville; Miami; and Irving, Texas, according to the suit.

TBN directors received about $300,000 to $500,000 in meal expenses and the use of chauffeurs, and oversaw "fraudulent donation and kickback schemes involving third party 'ministries'" the network controlled, the suit claims.

The directors also misused funds to cover up sexual scandals, the suit claims.

The suit alleges that Brittany Koper refused to lie for TBN in a lawsuit brought against the network by a former employee, Horst Brandt, who claimed he was fired over age discrimination.

MacLeod said Brittany Koper was fired by Matthew Crouch, son of Paul Crouch Sr., after she submitted a memo to his father detailing her concerns about financial improprieties.

Network lawyers, for their part, said in a lawsuit last year that the Kopers used forged documents to embezzle funds to buy trucks, jewelry, a fishing boat, a motorcycle, a Lexus and life insurance, and gave McVeigh thousands of dollars without authorization.

MacLeod said the courts dismissed the lawsuit against the Kopers and McVeigh.

Requests for comment to TBN were referred to attorney Colby May, who could not be reached.

MacLeod said Brittany Koper plans to file a wrongful-termination suit against TBN.

TBN has been the subject of controversy before.

In 2010, the network settled a suit on confidential terms with a broadcast engineer who claimed he was discriminated against because he was gay. In another case, the network paid a $425,000 settlement to a former employee who said he had a homosexual encounter with Paul Crouch Sr., who denied the accusation.

Network preachers have been aggressive advocates of the "prosperity gospel," the belief that God will bestow financial rewards on donors who give generously.




Trinity Broadcasting Network has come under heavy criticism for its promotion of the prosperity gospel, teaching viewers that they will receive a reward if they donate or give offerings. In a 2004 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Paul Crouch, Jr. expressed his disappointment that "the prosperity gospel is a lightning rod for the Body of Christ. It's not what drives TBN."

Televangelists on TBN's schedule such as Joel Osteen, Nasir Siddiki, Steve Munsey, Benny Hinn, Rod Parsley, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, Eddie L. Long, Jesse Duplantis, Paula White, and Kenneth Copeland espouse the Word of Faith doctrine. Senator Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Finance has conducted investigations into whether Hinn, White, Copeland, Dollar, Meyer, or Long mishandled their finances; none were found to have committed wrongdoing.

Wealth and transparency

TBN is a 501-3 C non-profit company. Full disclosure of TBN’s financial statements have been evaluated by Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest evaluator of charities and non-profit companies. TBN has received a 3/4 star rating for 4 consecutive years, and in 2009 earned a 2/4 star rating due to a 2% increase in administrative costs in 2009. Charity Navigator. It reports that for the FYE 12/2009, Paul F. Crouch Sr., President of TBN earned $419,500, Janice Crouch, Vice-President, earned $361,000, and Paul F. Crouch Jr., Vice-President, earned $214,137.

TBN is not a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability or any official financial oversight group; Paul Crouch and his family—as members of TBN's executive board—control the network's finances.

In February 2012, Brittany B. Koper, Paul and Jan Crouch's granddaughter and TBN's former chief financial officer, filed a lawsuit against her former attorneys. In her lawsuit, Koper alleged that TBN's executive board misappropriated $50 million in "charitable assets" for their own use. Koper claimed that TBN's management and lawyers threatened her with arrest if she went public with the information, and was fired by the network when she did so anyway. Koper also claimed that Matthew Crouch had threatened her with a gun when she questioned him over TBN's practices. Koper's former attorneys, who also represent TBN, denied her claims and alleged that she misappropriated $400,000 during her tenure at the network.

Wrongful termination lawsuit

In September 2004 the Los Angeles Times reported that in 1998 Crouch paid Enoch Lonnie Ford, a former employee, a $425,000 formal settlement to end a wrongful termination lawsuit. Ford alleged that he and Paul Crouch had a homosexual tryst while Ford was employed by TBN. TBN officials acknowledge the settlement, but contested the credibility of Ford who is a convicted felon, with crimes ranging from child sexual molestation to using illegal drugs such as crack cocaine. Ford became involved with TBN through a drug-rehabilitation program conducted on TBN’s property. Upon his successful completion of the program, TBN offered him employment. Ford was arrested while employed by TBN for drug-related violations, and was found guilty of violating his probation and was returned to prison for a year. Upon his release from incarceration in 1997, Ford again sought employment with TBN and, when TBN declined, he threatened to sue TBN by alleging wrongful termination and sexual harassment. Ford has convictions in Orange Country Courts case numbers: 04CC05609, 01CF0559. Solano Courts case number: FCM107776 San Bernardino County: M618996 TBN officials stated that the settlement was made in order to avoid a lengthy and expensive lawsuit.

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