Evangelist settles 2 suits over money lent to him

Orlando Sentinel/July 21, 2005
By Linda Shrieves

After three years of legal wrangling, high-profile evangelist Clint Brown and his 6,000-member church, FaithWorld, have settled a lawsuit filed by a former church member who said the evangelist asked her for a $200,000 loan and then refused to pay the money back.

Within days of reaching an agreement with former member Deborah Mitchell, church attorneys "amicably resolved" a similar lawsuit in which a Denver church charged that Brown had borrowed $100,000 from its congregation and never paid the money back.

"All I can tell you is both cases have been amicably resolved," said Winter Park attorney Howard Marks, who represented Mitchell and the Denver church, Heritage Christian Center.

Attorneys representing Brown and his church did not return repeated calls for comment.

The past year has been one of legal turmoil for Brown, 42, an evangelist and Christian recording artist who took over the helm of Benny Hinn's Orlando megachurch in late 1999. Brown's wife, Angela, filed for divorce in March 2004, and the divorce filing revealed the couple's lavish lifestyle, which included seven cars, a $1.4 million home in Alaqua Lakes and credit-card charges that totaled more than $450,000 in two years.

In the Mitchell case, the two sides reached a settlement June 15, shortly before the case was scheduled to go to trial.

The settlement is confidential.

"I can tell you that they have agreed to repay the funds," Mitchell said. "That's all I can say."

Mitchell filed the lawsuit in August 2002, charging that Brown requested a private meeting with her in 1999 and asked for a $200,000 loan to help the church build a new home. FaithWorld's congregation was meeting in a converted shopping center in Apopka at the time.

Mitchell had received a large insurance settlement after her husband's death.

Through his attorneys, Brown maintained that Mitchell gave the church $200,000 as a gift, not a loan. There was no written transaction, and there were no witnesses to the verbal agreement.

FaithWorld attorney Mark Matthew O'Mara has acknowledged that the money was originally intended to buy or construct a new building.

But when televangelist Hinn moved his World Outreach Center from Orlando to Dallas, FaithWorld acquired Hinn's Forest City Road property by assuming the $5.8 million debt. Mitchell's $200,000 went into the church's general fund, O'Mara said.

In the lawsuit filed in March by Heritage Christian Center of Denver, church officials said Brown asked for help when FaithWorld needed money for a new building. Pastor Dennis Leonard wired the money to Brown, Marks said, and the pair verbally agreed that FaithWorld would repay the loan.

In its lawsuit, Heritage Christian asked to be repaid $100,000, plus interest, costs and attorneys' fees. The Denver church dropped the lawsuit June 22, saying the dispute had been amicably resolved and both sides had agreed to shoulder their own attorneys' fees.

The church's pastor could not be reached for comment.

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