Televangelists' reportedly lavish lifestyles draw senator's scrutiny

Sen. Charles Grassley Asks Ministries To Turn Over Financial Records Within One Month

Fort Worth Star-Telegram/November 1, 2007

Multimillion-dollar televangelism empires built by Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn, both with ties to Tarrant County, and four other ministries face a congressional inquiry spurred by reports of lavish mansions, Rolls-Royces and private jets.

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley said he wants to ensure that the tax-exempt organizations are accountable to donors. Representatives for both locally based evangelists said Tuesday that they operate within the law.

On Monday, Grassley, R-Iowa, sent requests to Hinn's Grapevine headquarters and Copeland's Newark-based ministry, as well as to the other televangelists.

In the letters, Grassley asks for everything from Hinn's hotel bills and food costs to an explanation of why Copeland's Eagle Mountain International Church, with assets of $20 million, needed to borrow about $1 million from Copeland's wife, Gloria.

The information, if provided, could give donors an unprecedented look inside the ministries, which are organized as churches and are not required by the IRS to disclose financial information publicly.

"I don't want to conclude that there's a problem, but I have an obligation to donors and the taxpayers to find out more," Grassley said in a statement. "People who donated should have their money spent as intended and in adherence with the tax code."

Hinn's board of directors and legal counsel are determining how to cooperate with the inquiry, said Ronn Torossian, a spokesman for Hinn Ministries.

"We regard this as an important matter and will not respond until further information becomes available. World Healing Center Church complies with the laws that govern church and non-profit organizations and will continue to do so," he said in a statement.

Copeland's Eagle Mountain International Church has received Grassley's letter and is in the process of responding to it, according to an e-mail sent by Julie Spiewak, a ministry spokeswoman.

The church "operates in accordance with all federal and state laws, as well as best practices, for churches and religious nonprofit organizations and will continue to do so," Spiewak said.

Ole Anthony of the Trinity Foundation, a Dallas group that has investigated televangelists for years, said he has provided many documents to Grassley's staff during the past two years. He said the staff is most interested in any evidence of nonprofit assets being converted to for-profit use or cases in which donor funds enrich the televangelists.

Grassley, the ranking Republican and former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has extensively investigated nonprofit organizations, including the charity work done by nonprofit hospitals.

Several of the questions asked by Grassley concern the cost of buying, furnishing and maintaining residences for Copeland and Hinn.

Copeland's parsonage, identified in Grassley's letter as being located at 6000 Indian Creek Road in unincorporated Tarrant County, is valued at $4.1 million, according to Tarrant Appraisal District records.

While Hinn's financial headquarters is in Grapevine, his parsonage is at 35 Ritz Cove in Dana Point, Calif. It is valued at $2.3 million, according to Orange County treasurer-tax collector records. In January, a $7.3 million loan was tied to the property, an employee at the Orange County clerk-recorder's office said Tuesday. The purpose of the loan isn't clear.

Several questions also concern the Copeland ministry's acquisition of an Eagle Mountain Lake airfield from the estate of oilman and rancher Paul H. Pewitt. Grassley asks whether the church has since "transferred, conveyed, gifted" or otherwise placed it in the control of any other entity or person. There are also questions about the land's mineral leases and whether some of the land is used for a for-profit ranch owned by Copeland and son John Copeland.

James E. Wallace said Pewitt, his great-uncle, arranged to sell the property to Copeland's ministry before his death. Wallace, who served as executor of the estate, said he completed the sale after Pewitt died in 1980. He could not recall what the ministry paid but said he did not believe mineral rights were part of the deal.

Copeland's use of aircraft, including a Cessna Citation X jet, is also at issue. The current price for the jet, the fastest nonmilitary aircraft made, is $20.16 million, said a spokesman for Cessna, based in Wichita, Kan.

Grassley asks for the tax-exempt purpose of layovers on Maui and the Fiji Islands and in Honolulu, according to the letter.

What the senator wants

In response to media reports about the possible misuse of donations to religious organizations, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, asks six prominent televangelists for information.

Among Grassley's requests in a five-page letter regarding Benny Hinn's ministry:

A detailed explanation of Hinn's compensation, including cash, housing allowances and any personal use of ministry assets.

Explanations for any clothing, jewelry and grooming costs on Hinn's expense account.

Any payments to Hinn, including cash or the equivalent, that may have been excluded from Hinn's income reported to the IRS for 2004-06.

In a six-page letter to Kenneth Copeland's ministry, Grassley asks for:

The status of The Revival Capital of the World, a planned headquarters, resort hotel, radio and television center, and retirement community that Kenneth Copeland Ministries asked donors to support.

Details involving Security Petrol, a for-profit company formed by Copeland's Eagle Mountain International Church that acquired oil, gas and mineral interests from the church.

A list of attendees for Kenneth Copeland Ministries' 40th anniversary celebration, at which Copeland was presented a gift "in excess of $2 million."

Under scrutiny

Televangelists who received a letter from U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley:

Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church and Paula White Ministries, Tampa, Fla.

Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church and Benny Hinn Ministries, Grapevine

David and Joyce Meyer of Joyce Meyer Ministries, Fenton, Mo.

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, Newark

Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and Bishop Eddie Long Ministries, Lithonia, Ga.

Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International and Creflo Dollar Ministries, College Park, Ga.

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