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Seldom without her little white dogs

The Trinity Broadcasting Network is a non-profit? It’s tax-exempt?! Are they kidding?

Apparently not.

The prosperity gospel preached by Paul and Janice Crouch, who built a single station into the world’s largest Christian television network, has worked out well for them.

Very well: they have a few lavish houses spread around the landscape, and they took in $93 million in donations in 2010. Now their granddaughter is telling the Feds about their accounting habits.

In two pending lawsuits and in her first public interview, Ms. Koper described company-paid luxuries that she said appeared to violate the Internal Revenue Service’s ban on “excess compensation” by nonprofit organizations as well as possibly state and federal laws on false bookkeeping and self-dealing.

The lavish perquisites, corroborated by two other former TBN employees, include additional, often-vacant homes in Texas and on the former Conway Twitty estate in Tennessee, corporate jets valued at $8 million and $49 million each and thousand-dollar dinners with fine wines, paid with tax-exempt money.

Because Jesus saves.

“My job as finance director was to find ways to label extravagant personal spending as ministry expenses,” Ms. Koper said. This is one way, she said, the company avoids probing questions from the I.R.S. She said that the absence of outsiders on TBN’s governing board — currently consisting of Paul, Janice and Matthew Crouch — had led to a serious lack of accountability for spending.

Ms. Koper and the two other former TBN employees also said that dozens of staff members, including Ms. Koper, chauffeurs, sound engineers and others had been ordained as ministers by TBN. This allowed the network to avoid paying Social Security taxes on their salaries and made it easier to justify providing family members with rent-free houses, sometimes called “parsonages,” she said.

Hey – it’s free exercise! Protected by the US Constitution!

No it’s not. Why the hell have they been allowed to get away with this? Is everybody that afraid of the Angry Christian lobby?

In 2008 and 2009, as Mrs. Crouch began remodeling Holy Land Experience, she rented adjacent rooms in the deluxe Loews Portofino Bay Hotel in Orlando — one for herself and one for her two beloved Maltese dogs and clothes, according to Mr. Clements and Ms. Koper. Mrs. Crouch rented the rooms for close to two years, they said.

Ms. Crouch was seldom without her little white dogs, pushing them in a pink stroller and keeping a costly motor home, originally purchased to serve as an office, for two years as an air-conditioned sanctuary for her pets, the two former employees said.

I’m not saying another word.

Comments

  1. Jeff D says

    These sort of abuses of tax-exempt status (by both religious organizations and other, non-religious 501(c)(3) entities) have been going on for years. Only a few legislators (Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa is one) have had the willingness and the guts to investigate such abuses by churches and religious organizations and to hold hearings. But except for a few cases where the abuses were egregious and criminal (e.g, Jim and Tammy Fae Bakker, who were the mentors of the Crouches) or where other factors were present (e.g., Bob Jones University and its policy against “inter-racial” dating on campus), churches and religious organizations usually don’t lose their exempt status. This might well be one of those cases where even the Treasury and Justice Departments have to sit up, take notice, and act. The Crouches could have picked up bad recordkeeping and spending habits from Jim Bakker (who I think was the founder of Trinity Broadcasting), and I expect that the jig is up for the Crouches.

    As a tax lawyer, I’ve concluded that (1) Christianity’s majority status, (2)”sensitivities” about the Free Exercise Clause, and (3) the excessive deference paid to religion in general are three of the reasons why Treasury and the IRS do not do a better job of enforcing the rules against churches and religious organizations. This phenomenon is also built into the Internal Revenue Code as a matter of Congressional policy. Code section 7611 imposes special requirements for “church tax inquiries” and tax examinations of churches, to make it harder for civil examinations of churches’ tax status and activities to occur. Section 7611 explicitly does not restrict investigations or prosecutions of churches or their officers or personnel for criminal tax evasion, but I suspect that there is a general chilling effect.

  2. stonyground says

    The thing that always baffles me in these cases is that they get donations. Just how phenominally stupid do you have to be to think that giving money to these people is a good idea?

  3. Rudi says

    They must know that, under the basic tenets of their belief system, they are running the risk of an eternity in hell for this.

    No?

    What, you mean they don’t REALLY believe the bullshit they espouse, and have knowingly stolen millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money while cynically lying to the gullible about things they know to be untrue?

    Surely not?

  4. Zengaze says

    Prosperity gospel: usually whispered in secret amongst church elite, never officially espoused, (except for the loons).

    I once heard a pastor announce from the stage that he didn’t believe in the prosperity gospel, and then proceed to give a sermon on how god will sow back into the lives of the people who sow into gods mission. (which translated into giving cash to the church coffers). You got to love pseudo profundity.

    Pastors know that the term “prosperity gospel” wreaks of scam and even raises the antenna of their most brainwashed sheep, so they wrap it in another coat, but you will find very very few Christian movements who don’t teach it in one form or another. I should have said leach it in one form or another.

    Confession: I worked as a pastors aid (voluntary) for sixish months, what that meant in practice was he passed what he wanted done to me, and i passed that on to others, and part of the problem is that anyone who knows what goes on within the inner circles of churches are too drunk on the kool aid to see the problem. Most are also drunk on the cult of personality so if they ever even stop for a moment to question irregularities their programming kicks in, or the pastor will have a sit down, and explain how the ways of the world aren’t the ways of gods people, and Satan attempts to destroy gods work by attacking such devoted followers by putting corrupt thoughts in their heads about their brothers and sisters in Christ.

    What people also don’t see is the accounting which takes place. It’s run like a business, it’s about bums on seats and average return per seat in terms of tithing, with projections dependant upon which pastor is rota’d to speak, with secondary cash drives penciled in under the name of “compassion giving” or some other wallet opening name. The drives are spread out over a year with one usually pencilled in at the start or end of each month to maximise the intake from monthly salaried givers.

    They are also now using the old business trick of breaking up their business into multiple sub companies. Why do this if they are tax exempt you ask. The purpose of this is so that multiple “charities” within the one church/business can apply for the same pot of government funding, so maximising the potential take.

    That is only the tip of the iceberg. I often wonder if people actually saw the reality of a church office would it waken them, I’ve come to the conclusion that it wouldn’t no amount of reality can shake the desperate clinging to the cross. They need it like a crack head needs their dope.

  5. Sunny says

    When I first moved to the United States, I had the misfortune of staying with a family that had their TV channel set to TBN every waking hour. I am still traumatized by Janice Crouch.

  6. says

    Jeff D and Zengaze…interesting and useful.

    I sort of knew that about the hands-off approach, but it wasn’t much on the radar. It should be.

    …I mean, we know this. Helen Ukpabio makes money from the witch-hunt. It’s a money-making scam. (Talk about “black bodies” – talk about using people for your own enrichment as if the people were so much wood or stone.) It must be one of the easiest ways to con people out of their money that anyone knows of.

    We need to put this more on the radar. (“We” meaning gnus.)

  7. stonyground says

    James Randi wrote a book called ‘The Faith Healers’ that looks into faith healing scams and the more general religious scams like this one. His book ‘Flim Flam’ is also partly about frauds and their witless victims.

  8. Zengaze says

    Religion is big business, I would say the only business which rival it are sex, drugs, and war. Nice bed fellows huh!

    One of the most outrageous examples of blatant laughing in the face of the sheep I saw, was the whole staff team, and their wives going on a staff meeting at a holiday resort in the Mediterranean. Even this didn’t rock the foundations.

  9. Extra fill. says

    Want to watch a fascinating expose of this whole dirty business? Check out a 1972 award winning documentary called: Marjo. He was trained by his parents to be a preacher and was conducting marriages from the age of 5 yrs! Hard to believe I know.
    His name is a combination of Mary & Joseph. You can pick the dvd up from Amazon.
    The thing that surprises is the expose did not have any effect whatsoever on attendance figures.
    Source: Chris Hitchens, God is Not Great.

  10. godlesspanther says

    All the comments on this are good. Religious scams, particularly xtian scams in the US, is one of my favorite subjects.

    @ Stonyground, on the surface it seems as though people who donate money — all too often more than they can afford — appear to be blithering idiots. Does TBN’s donor list consist of those who are strapped to a wall in an institution, drooling on themselves, and occasionally screaming “FUCK ‘EM ALL!!!!”?

    As much as that would appear to be the case, it’s not. It is not so much utter stupidity that is the factor but instead it is a combination of desperation and indoctrination. These scamsters are exploiting people’s misery. Those who have terminal illness, have insurmountable debt, or something irreversible that is causing them tremendous pain and anxiety. It is absolutely desperate people who have placed their last hope in a scam.

    @ Rudi, I have no doubt that the Crouches are fully aware that they are running a scam and ripping people off. This is not a suspicion, it is a fact. I can confidently say this because of the amount of research that goes into their advertising, sermons, and general message. They use real science to scam those who are painfully superstitious. The methods that they use are based in behavioral psychology. Fine tuned to locate and exploit those who will fall into their trap.

    —-

    The Faith Healers by James Randi and the 1972 film Marjoe are superb resources.

    Some time ago Marjoe was on Youtube — can’t guarantee that it’s still there. It is back in print now, it wasn’t for many years.

    @ Ophelia — Unfortunately the religious right bully has made people terrified of going after religious fraud. It is suicide. I do not mean political or career suicide, I mean that effectively taking down something like TBN is likely to get a person literally murdered.

    Look at the situation — big money, very big, under the control of people who are known to be and proud of being hateful, violent, and completely irrational. Godzilla would be nervous.

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