Lee Zurik Investigation: Duplantis ministry is big business

Fox News 8, Louisiana/May 19, 2010

Ole Anthony's been investigation religion since the mid 1980's.

Anthony said, "There's more fraud committed in America in the name of God than any other fraud. And that's is just not right."

Anthony heads the Trinity Foundation. It's a Dallas based not for profit.

"Many of these ministries we investigate at the top are spiritual snakepits," Anthony said. "And that's sad."

Trinity Foundation has worked with the FBI, IRS, even the U.S. Senate.

"Believe it or not, we are the only group in America that routinely investigates religious fraud," Anthony said. "Why? Because these guys are terribly litigious. I've been sued so many times I can't count it anymore."

One of the televangelists Anthony is investigating is based in St. Charles Parish.

Jesse Duplantis is charismatic. He also has a worldwide following.

But Anthony says greed motivates Duplantis. And Anthony says that is apparent by his luxurious lifestyle.

Duplantis is building a mansion in St. Charles Parish. It's reportedly one of the largest on the East Bank of the River. Construction began in October of 2008. The house has 35-thousand square feet of covered space. It has 22,039 of living space. The garage and other covered area totals 12,947 square feet.

Inside, there will be 5 bedrooms, more than 7 bathrooms, and a home theatre. Parish records show the cost at 3 million dollars. The owner of the house is not Duplantis, but his ministry, Jesse Duplantis Ministries. Pete Evans leads the investigations for the Trinity Foundation.

Evans said, "Donors expect the money they donate to the church to go to the poor and needy. Not to build mansions for the pastor."

Evans says Duplantis teaches the Prosperity Gospel.

"If you give x amount of dollars, you are going to get that multipled and get that back to you," Evans said. "It's a heavenly Las Vegas in some sense."

According to Duplantis, the gospel has worked for him.

In a television interview Duplantis said he was, "driving down highway 167 going towards Lafayette. And a citation jet flew over my head. And the Lord said look up. And he said I am going to give you one like that."

Duplantis says the lord told him he would get his own private plane.

"I'm figuring how am I going to pay for this. How am I going to sustain this," Duplantis said in that interview. "Lord said Jesse - I didn't ask you to pay for it. I asked you to believe for it."

And years later, Duplantis got that plane.

And since then, he's been a frequent flyer.

Duplantis blocks his flight records, but Fox 8 News managed to get a copy. Since 2000, .Duplantis has used his plane nearly 2500 times. A plane owned by his ministry.

"It appears as though on the surface that Duplantis is using his jet to go on vacation from time to time," said Evans.

In 2009, Jesse Duplantis Ministries plane took a 17 day trip to Hawaii. The plane hopped from island to island. We spoke to one airplane operator who has the same jet as Duplantis. By his calculations, this Hawaii trip cost his ministry $40,000. That includes the cost of gassing up, flying, and storing the plane in Hawaii for 17 days.

Records show, in early March, he took an 11 day Hawaii trip this year too.

Jesse Duplantis Ministries jet has also taken 11 different trips to Las Vegas.

And the plane's also been to Canada and England. But the majority of his flights to appear to be for church work.

"If a CEO of whatever needs a plane that is fine," Duplantis said in a TV interview (not with Fox 8). "So if a CEO of a ministry needs to preach the gospel and get back to his church, that's ok with me."

Duplantis' congregants say his big house and private plane don't bother them.

"That's his personal business," one congregant said.

Another said, "I think god is blessing him. He gives to people and he gives back. Whatever you give you get back."

While the church is paying for the house and plane, his congregants say they don't believe their donations fund his lifestyle.

"I don't think church money is going towards that," a congregant said. "But I'd love to give to it. Because whatever you sow is what you receive. So I'd love a big beautiful house and a plane too."

The Trinity Foundation says there's no truth behind the prosperity gospel. They say Duplantis' actions mirror many televangelists across the country.

"Unfortunately this is becoming more and more common where preachers are using at best suspicious business dealings to hurt the church and benefit themselves," Ole Anthony of the Trinity Foundation said.

A huge home and a plane that's sometimes used for personal use - all benefits the Trinity Foundation say shouldn't be possible for a man of god.

"He doesn't believe in the Holy Trinity. He believes in the holy quartet. Father, son, Holy Spirit and him."

Anthony said he knows that will offend a lot of people who go to his church every week.

"I know. Talk to them in five years after the promises didn't work."

But one congregant said: "If anybody wants to put him (Duplantis) down, you are going to have to put the congregation down too."

We tried to get an interview with Duplantis for this story. He never returned our calls.

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