Pastor's $65 million jet request raises questions about church finances

WGCL CBS News, Atlanta/May 19, 2015

By Jeff Chirico/h3>

Atlanta, Georgia -- Creflo Dollar lives a life typically reserved for billionaires and celebrities.

He and his wife, Taffi, own a mansion in Fayette County, a $2.1 million home near New York City and a luxury condominium in Buckhead.

For the past 15 years, they've had two private jets and a crew whisking them off to every corner of the globe.

However, unlike most who enjoy lives of luxury, Dollar earned his fortune off religion, which has earned him his share of critics.

A pastor, in the Bible view, is a servant," said Ole Anthony, of the Trinity Foundation in Dallas, TX. "His role isn't to make money off the sheep or eat the sheep."

Dollar's World Changers Church International claims 30,000 members between its main location in College Park, and another in New York City. His sermons are shown live on big screens in two dozen satellite churches in North America and Australia, and are broadcast on television around the world.

According to Vic Bolton, spokesman for Dollar's World Changers Church International, the church brings in $80 million annually from its congregation. According to its website, WCCI donates to charities and organizes international missions, but it is unclear how much of the $80 million helps people in need, and how much it helps Dollar become wealthier.

Unlike other tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations, churches aren't required by law to make public their financial information so it's unclear how the money congregants give to WCCI is spent.

Bolton said the church gives "gazillions" of dollars to charities but couldn't be more specific since the church doesn't keep track of how much it gives.

Through Bolton, Dollar declined to be interviewed by CBS46 and refused to provide a copy of the church's audited financial statements or the names of those who sit on the church's board of directors and make financial decisions for the church.

Dollar's lack of openness about the finances of the tax-exempt church isn't new.

In 2007, Dollar was branded the "least cooperative" by investigators for the U.S. Senate Finance Committee looking into possible tax abuse by six televangelists.

"When a church can't be transparent, it raises suspicion," said Rev. Timothy McDonald, pastor of the First Iconium Baptist Church on Moreland Avenue in southeast Atlanta, and a member of the Concerned Black Clergy. McDonald said he supported the Senate investigation because he hoped it would rein in pastors who live lavishly and keep church finances secret.

"If you're going to take money from the people, you have to be willing and ready to share financial disclosure with the people," said Rev. McDonald.

Bolton said Pastor Dollar has stopped collecting a salary from the church, but public records reveal he and his wife Taffi have created multiple for-profit companies so closely linked with the church, they're located in church-owned buildings.

It's understood Pastor Dollar makes his money from book and CD sales and paid speaking engagements.

"[Dollar and his wife] own the book publishing, the record publishing. They sell the music and sell the sermons, and sell the books as intellectual property," said Anthony. "In a real church, the intellectual property is owned by the congregation, not the pastor."

Bolton would not reveal how much Pastor Dollar earns from his side businesses and whether he gives any of that back to the church that pays to promote him.

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