Doubts taint aid to Haiti

Miami Herald/October 11, 2004
By Amy Sherman

Pembroke Pines plans to give surplus ambulances and medical equipment to the Haitian government. Watchdogs have questions about the nonprofit that will deliver the items to Haiti.

The city of Pembroke Pines will donate ambulances and medical equipment to Haiti with the help of a nonprofit organization with connections to a Christian broadcasting network whose financial practices have come under fire.

The city plans to donate two old ambulances and several pieces of medical equipment, which the city no longer uses, to The Smile of a Child Ministry. The organization is run by a woman named Jan Crouch, who also helps run the Trinity Broadcasting Network, a multimillion-dollar TV operation.

Now, after The Herald asked questions about the donation, the city is checking with the Haitian government to make sure it really will be receiving the ambulances. City Manager Charlie Dodge said he expects to receive this confirmation any day now.

Trinity, Crouch and her husband have been criticized for the way they spend viewers' donations. Trinity's attorney says it has a 30-year record of financial integrity.

City officials say the donations will help Haiti, a poverty-stricken country that was further devastated by Hurricane Jeanne. Dodge said in an e-mail that the city is making the donation to Haiti; the ministry is picking up the delivery tab.

Assistant Fire Chief Joseph Montopoli suggested the donation of the 1986 and 1990 vehicles after seeing Jan Crouch interview Haiti's Prime Minister Gerard Latortue on TV about the lack of rescue equipment in Haiti. The City Commission approved the donation in September.

The vehicles have little use to the city because the sale would generate only a few thousand dollars and the medical equipment has no resale value.

In 1999, Jan Crouch formed The Smile of a Child, which works cooperatively with TBN, a California-based nonprofit organization that operates the world's largest Christian television network.

In Haiti, Smile of a Child funds an orphanage and is building a $2 million hospital. All of the ministry's donations go to various charitable relief efforts, said John Casoria, attorney for the ministry and TBN.

TBN has faced more scrutiny than Smile of a Child because it's a much larger operation. A recent Los Angeles Times series stated that TBN owns 30 homes, including a couple of mansions across the country, and a $7.2 million jet among other luxuries. TBN has more than a half-billion in net assets, according to its 2002 tax return.

Healthy Salaries

Paul Crouch's salary as president was $403,700, and Jan Crouch's salary as vice president was $361,000 -- both above the median $286,402 among 163 charities surveyed, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy's compensation survey for 2003 salaries. Those salaries are among the top five of 53 religious organizations surveyed. Jan doesn't draw a salary from Smile of a Child.

Charity Navigator, a nonprofit that runs an online charity database, gives TBN a ''needs improvement'' rating. Other watchdogs, Wall Watchers and the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, say TBN doesn't provide enough financial information for the groups to rate it. Wall Watchers, a Christian nonprofit that runs a website with financial profiles of large ministries, gives TBN a ''C'' transparency grade.

It's fair for donors to look at TBN's record when evaluating other organizations involving the Crouches, said Michael Barrick, a spokesman for Wall Watchers.

''We have called into question the financial practices and theology of Jan and Paul Crouch,'' he said. "Anything they are associated with I believe would have the same questions raised.''

The salaries, homes and luxuries are an abuse of donor money, Barrick said.

''The Crouches are living a lavish lifestyle far in excess of normal compensation for nonprofit leadership, especially Christian ministries,'' he said.

Trying to Help

Casoria said the homes belong to TBN, not the Crouches and that the jet is needed for business.

IRS auditors have told TBN that it's doing a good job, he said.

''Our accountability is to the government, the IRS and our partners,'' he said. "We don't need some third-party watchdog group controlling us with their agendas.''

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