Did TBN ministers Paul, Jan Crouch cover up 13-year-old granddaughter’s rape allegation?

The Orange Country Register/May 3, 2017

By Teri Sforza

What happened that night in a Georgia hotel room during the Trinity Broadcasting Network’s spring 2006 Praise-a-Thon?

Both sides acknowledge that the 13-year-old granddaughter of the Christian broadcaster’s founders, and a 30-year-old man who worked for them, smoked a cigarette together on her balcony, drank alcohol in her room, and watched a movie on her bed, according to depositions in a civil trial that began this week in Orange County Superior Court.

Trinity maintains that young Carra Crouch fell asleep that night, ending the episode – and that the girl was foolish to let a 30-year-old man in her room.

But Carra Crouch, now 24, argues that the man fondled her, tried to kiss her, and gave her a glass of water that she suspects was laced with a drug that made her pass out, according to her lawsuit against Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana, the nonprofit that runs the Christian broadcasting empire TBN. When she awoke, she suspected she had been raped.

Deeply ashamed and embarrassed, she told her relatives after returning to California. Her grandmother, Jan Crouch – who had accompanied her on the trip – became furious, screaming “‘it is your fault,’” according to the suit.

Rather than reporting the potential sexual abuse to authorities, as ordained ministers like Crouch are required to do under California law, her relatives at Trinity fired the man and swept everything under the rug to avoid bad publicity for TBN, Crouch’s suit alleges.

Network founders Paul and Jan Crouch are deceased, but they said Carra Crouch’s claims were not true after the suit was filed five years ago. And their company, Trinity, continues to deny the allegations and consider them frivolous. At Carra Crouch’s deposition, Trinity’s lawyers painted her as a confused liar who may have invented the episode to rationalize her wayward behavior, and suggested that the lawsuit is part of an extortion plot to wring money out of Trinity.

Carra Crouch’s allegations are perhaps the most explosive salvo in the legal battles raging among Trinity principals, cleaving the first family of Christian broadcasting to pieces. Painful details are expected to emerge in court in coming weeks, as the case zeroes in on three fundamental questions:

Was there reason to believe a child was abused in 2006?

If so, were Jan Crouch and other Trinity authorities required to alert police?

And if they did not, is Carra Crouch entitled to damages?

Other scandals

Trinity has faced scandals before, but none quite like this.

Former TBN worker Enoch Lonnie Ford was paid $425,000 to keep quiet about claims of a homosexual tryst with network founder Paul Crouch Sr. that allegedly happened in the 1990s (Crouch, who died in 2013 at age 79, said it did not). Former broadcast engineer Brian Dugger alleged that he was harassed and pushed out of his job for being gay in a 2009 suit. Dugger was told that TBN was “no place for fairies,” received pornography from TBN executives, and was humiliated with taunts of “Brian has a man-gina!” his suit said. He settled for an undisclosed amount in 2010.

What makes the Carra Crouch case unusual, observers said, is not just that it’s a granddaughter lodging such a painful accusation against her grandmother. It’s the religious and cultural context in which the battle is set.

“I am completely fascinated by this,” said Kelsy Burke, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, where she studies the relationship between religion and sexuality in contemporary America. “Jan Crouch was really vital part of the ministry – it was not just a man on the screen. She was a crucial part of the network’s success, and I don’t know that people have given her her due in that regard.”

Evangelical Christians are not the only group to be hit with sex scandals of various types; every walk of life has its share, said Burke. But scandals involving the Evangelical community are different.

“The stark contrast between the message they’re espousing and the details of these allegations is why these stories so quickly make headlines,” Burke said. “It’s so counter to their supposed beliefs.”

Burke’s book, “Christians under Covers: Evangelicals and Sexual Pleasure on the Internet,” was published last year by the University of California Press. She doesn’t believe sexual abuse is any more prominent in the Evangelical community than anywhere else. But she does believe that within the Evangelical community, the trauma associated with sexual abuse has extra dimensions.

“Women are often so much more restricted in how they could talk about it, and who they could talk about it with,” she said. “The male leadership that typifies many Evangelical Christian churches makes them hard spaces to confront these problems.”

And having the church also be your family?

That could make it even harder, she said.

Trinity’s allegations

When Carra Crouch filed the lawsuit, in 2012, Trinity said her story had changed considerably over the years. The details she provided in 2006 were “materially different” from the claims she detailed in the suit, and were completely at odds with what she told her mother back then, Trinity attorney Colby May said.

“These multiple versions undermine her credibility and support our position that Trinity has certainly done nothing wrong. Unfortunately, such meritless lawsuits have become commonplace in our society, and accordingly, Trinity will fully and vigorously defend itself,” May said at the time.

Crouch’s motive, Trinity’s lawyers have said, is money.

Some background: Carra Crouch is the younger sister of Brittany Crouch Davidson, Trinity’s former treasurer. Both are the daughters of Paul Crouch Jr., the eldest child of Trinity’s founders, the late Jan and Paul Crouch Sr.

In 2011, Brittany Crouch Davidson, then married to Michael Koper, accused her family of playing fast and loose with the ministry’s millions, and provided internal documents that she said proved it. She detailed the purchase of a $50 million jet through “a sham loan to an alter ego corporation” for the personal use of the Crouches; a $100,000 motor home purchased by Trinity as a mobile residence for Jan Crouch’s dogs; “multiple residential estates” falsely reported as guest homes or church parsonages to avoid income disclosures; meal expenses of up to a half-million dollars per company director; “personal chauffeurs compensated with Trinity funds under the guise of medical payments;” and “multiple cover-ups of sexual and criminal scandals.”

Trinity accused Crouch Davidson and her then-husband of embezzling at least $1 million during their tenure on Trinity’s staff. The documents she offered as evidence were stolen and doctored, and her assertions were “nothing more than a diversionary tactic from their own embezzlement, fraudulent actions, and deceit,” Trinity said in court filings.

The Crouch Davidson and Koper battles are ongoing in several courts. Trinity’s lawyers have said in court documents that the plaintiffs in both suits are motivated by money, and that Carra Crouch’s claim is part of an extortion attempt.

Possible smoking gun

Carra Crouch’s suit alleges sexual battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence. The two sides have been warring ever since it was filed over a potential smoking gun: A memo from Trinity attorney (and Crouch cousin) John Casoria, produced by big sister Brittany Crouch Davidson, which Trinity’s lawyers have argued is doctored.

According to that document, Casoria called the man, Steve Smith, and told him by phone, “TBN has gathered sufficient evidence to terminate you with cause. If this evidence was given to law enforcement authorities, it most probably would be sufficient to bring criminal charges against you which, if convicted, could put you in jail.”

Nothing would be forwarded to police, however, if Smith agreed to cut contact with everyone affiliated with TBN and did not file claims for unemployment or workers’ compensation, Casoria told him, according to the documents.

Carra Crouch never heard from Smith again. No one took her to the doctor to see if she had been raped. No one suggested she talk to a therapist. And no one alerted authorities in either California or Georgia that a sexual assault on a child may have occurred, she said at her deposition.

Both her grandmother, Jan Crouch, and cousin John Casoria – who she says were calling the shots back then – were ordained ministers. As such, both were legally required to report any suspected child abuse to authorities under the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, Crouch’s suit says.

She seeks justice, she said in her deposition, in the form of an apology and some sort of compensation.

Shrinking empire

Trinity bills itself as the world’s largest religious broadcasting organization, building a following by preaching the prosperity gospel. In addition to broadcasting into most every American home, it arrives via satellite on TVs in Russia, Spain, Portugal, the Middle East, Central Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Brazil and more. It also produces films, owns theme parks and dozens of homes.

Recently, the empire has hit bumpy financial times, and is downsizing.

In March, TBN’s iconic headquarters in Costa Mesa – a cross between a wedding cake and the White House, with twinkling white lights – sold for $18.25 million, according to CoStar Group, a commercial property database. The 65,000-square-foot, three-story building on a 6.19-acre campus is familiar to many for its bright holiday displays along the 405 Freeway on Bear Street.

Trinity has also sold several multi-million dollar homes since Paul Crouch Sr.’s death and Jan Crouch’s death, last year, at age 78.

Paul Crouch Jr., once heir apparent to the Trinity empire, was forced out after the family feud began. Trinity is run by his younger brother, Matthew Crouch.

Trinity’s revenue has taken a precipitous dive during the drama, from $207 million in 2006 to $121.5 million in 2014, according to a Register review of its most recent tax filings. Reports are that revenue was up in 2015, but Trinity’s most recent tax returns have not yet been made public.

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