The US government gives religious institutions all manner of tax breaks and also tends to not scrutinize their workings too closely. Crooked people have been exploiting the extra freedoms given to ostensibly religious institutions, such as so-called pastors living the high life on their tax free incomes and perks.
ProPublica exposes the workings of yet another religion-based fraud that left a lot of people, who trusted the institution would do right by them because they were Christian, in the lurch. They describe the case of Bonnie Marin who purchased insurance through a Christian health insurance company. When she developed a cancerous tumor, she thought that she would be spared the huge cost of treatment. To her shock, after a while, they stopped paying out.
Luckily, or so Martin thought, she had placed her trust — and her money — in Liberty HealthShare. Liberty is what’s known as a health care sharing ministry, a nonprofit alternative to medical insurance rooted in Christian principles. Hundreds of thousands of people rely on such organizations for basic health coverage. They promise no red tape, lower costs and compassion for the sick. Although Martin wasn’t religious, she found comfort in Liberty’s pledge to “carry one another’s burdens.”
Liberty covered her bills at first, but then, without warning or explanation, the payments stopped. Suddenly, she faced $10,000 in unpaid charges. Her whole life, she’d had pristine credit. Now creditors called constantly and sent harassing letters.
Martin died in July 2022 at age 63. Liberty never settled the bills that she had begged them to pay.
What Martin didn’t know when she joined Liberty was that she was sending her money to members of a family with a long and well-documented history of fraud.
For generations, members of the Beers family of Canton, Ohio, have used Christian faith to sell health coverage to more than a hundred thousand people like Martin. Instead they delivered pain, debt and financial ruin, according to an investigation by ProPublica based on leaked internal documents, land records, court files and interviews. They have done this not once but twice and have faced few consequences.
Patriarch Daniel J. Beers, 60, lies at the center of the family network. He was a leading figure in a scheme in the 1990s involving a health care sharing ministry that fraudulently siphoned tens of millions of dollars from members, court records show. Two decades later, he played a key role in building Liberty into one of the nation’s largest sharing ministries, several of the nonprofit’s current and former employees told ProPublica.
Four years after its launch in 2014, the ministry enrolled members in almost every state and collected $300 million in annual revenue. Liberty used the money to pay at least $140 million to businesses owned and operated by Beers family members and friends over a seven-year period, the investigation found. The family then funneled the money through a network of shell companies to buy a private airline in Ohio, more than $20 million in real estate holdings and scores of other businesses, including a winery in Oregon that they turned into a marijuana farm. The family calls this collection of enterprises “the conglomerate.”
Beers has disguised his involvement in Liberty. He has never been listed as a Liberty executive or board member, and none of the family’s 50-plus companies or assets are in his name, records show.
From the family’s 700-acre ranch north of Canton, however, Beers acts as the shadow lord of a financial empire. It was built from money that people paid to Liberty, Beers’ top lieutenant confirmed to ProPublica. He plays in high-stakes poker tournaments around the country, travels to the Caribbean and leads big-game hunts at a vast hunting property in Canada, which the family partly owns. He is a man, said one former Liberty executive, with all the “trappings of large money coming his way.”
After years of complaints, health care sharing ministries are now attracting more scrutiny. Sharity Ministries, once among the largest organizations in the industry, filed for bankruptcy and then dissolved in 2021 as regulators in multiple states investigated its failure to pay members’ bills. In January, the Justice Department seized the assets of a small Missouri-based ministry, Medical Cost Sharing Inc., and those of its founders, accusing them of fraud and self-enrichment. The founders have denied the government’s allegations.
While it is good that there seems to be some action being taken against these religious scams, it does not seem to be nearly enough.
Venkataraman Amarnath says
Unfortunately, non-profits can and often do consume a lot of money in executive salaries leaving very little for services. The combined compensations of the top six executives of Ascension Health is close to 50 millions.
Raging Bee says
Frauds hiding behind religion
That headline assumes that “frauds” and “religion” are separate things. Not a tenable assumption.
Insurance can be such a rich growth medium for fraud. Many insurance fraud victims might never even realize they have been defrauded. This is why a muscular governmental insurance commission is absolutely vital, and the First Amendment must never be allowed to shield con artists. Whenever you hear someone declare that “Government is not the solution, government is the problem”, hold on tight to your wallet.
Religion and insurance. Two great frauds that taste great together.
I was today years old when I first found out about these arseholes:
Matt G says
As soon as someone advertises their services as rooted in religion, I run the other way. They’re basically warning me not to trust them.
Raging Bee says
Matt G: Yeah, “Christian owned and operated” inspires absolutely no trust or warm fuzzies from me…