Shady Fundraising

KFDX3 News/April 27, 2004

They seemed to be doing good business at a Wichita Falls intersection, asking for donations for the homeless. But they may have been doing more harm then good. If you were driving near Kemp and Southwest Parkway in Wichita Falls yesterday, you probably saw them, and may have even donated. But where were these collectors for a "good cause" from?

They said they`re with Deeper Life Christian Church and they were raising money for the homeless. They`re based in Tampa, Florida where a pastor from Texas leads a congregation of thousands. But some of the things we found out about this ministry might surprise you.

They`re all over the country, and now they were in Wichita Falls. Members of Deeper Life Christian Church, most of them formerly homeless, were standing on street corners to solicit donations in large white buckets. One driver said, "The print was too small. "I don`t know what I was donating to, but I hope it`s a good cause."

But what many of those donating yesterday didn`t know is that the church has been in trouble for fraud. According to newspaper reports, in 1999, four of the church`s pastors as well as the church itself, were convicted of receiving stolen goods and laundering almost $20,000 a month in food stamps. And at least 3 of these fundraising trips have proved fatal, including one last year when a 14 year old was crushed under a van carrying church members.

It`s something that concerns area pastors, who are careful to disclose their church`s financial and fundraising activity. Dr. Scott Willingham, Pastor of Faith Baptist Church says, "There`s absolutely nothing that our church members cannot find out about how we spend our money."

Faith Baptists` financial administrator, Nyland F. Smith, who is also a certified public accountant, says if there`s a question, don`t give your money, "If you don`t know that much about them and you can`t understand their method of accountability, stay away from them."

That`s something to keep in mind the next time you`re considering giving to a good cause.

When we contacted their closest church in Dallas, no one would give us their names or any specifics on just what their ministry does or where the money goes. According to authorities in Florida, who launched the fraud investigation several years ago, there`s no evidence that the money collected in the buckets goes to anything but the church.

The collections seem to be over after NewsCenter 3 reported the organization`s possible history of fraud. Today, the collectors seem to have left our area. But if they return, you might want to keep this in mind.

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