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TBN again

Religion | Pair of lawsuits allege crimes, cover-ups, sexual impropriety, and lavish spending

Issue: "Agony and ecstasy," April 7, 2012

A $50 million jet. Chauffeurs. Mansions in California and Florida. Clandestine affairs. Crimes and cover-up. Even a $100,000 motor home for the pet dog.

These are just a few of the allegations directed against the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) and its directors in a pair of lawsuits filed in February by former employees of the nation's largest Christian broadcasting network.

The first lawsuit, filed on Feb. 1 in U.S. District Court in California, contains charges by Brittany Koper, the former chief financial officer of TBN and the granddaughter of founders Paul and Janice Crouch. Her lawsuit is not against TBN but against Davert & Loe, one of TBN's law firms. Koper's suit says she discovered illegal activities when she became head of finance. Among the alleged activities: "the unlawful distribution of the TBN Companies' charitable assets to Trinity Broadcasting's directors," some of whom are Crouch family members. The suit says "these unlawful financial transactions" exceed $50 million.

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She took that information to Davert & Loe, seeking legal advice. The firm "acknowledged that the conduct in question was unlawful but nevertheless advised ... Ms. Koper to perform and cover up such unlawful activities," according to the lawsuit. The suit also says lawyers in the firm harassed her sexually. She seeks more than $500,000 in damages.

The other lawsuit is against Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana, one of TBN's corporate entities, as well as other TBN entities and Davert & Loe. Joseph McVeigh, Koper's uncle, says TBN sued him in retaliation against Koper. A judge dismissed TBN's claims against McVeigh, who now seeks legal fees and "punitive and exemplary damages."

Both lawsuits paint a sordid picture of TBN, including allegations that Janice Crouch had an "affair with a staff member at the Holy Land Experience," a TBN-owned amusement park in Florida. The suit also accuses Matthew Crouch, a TBN director and the son of Paul and Janice Crouch, of sexual and financial misconduct. Koper's suit said that Matthew Crouch brought a gun to one meeting. He "began tapping the firearm ... and asked Ms. Koper what she thought would happen [if] she wrote a memo to the board critical of Matthew Crouch's financial improprieties."

Rusty Leonard, president of MinistryWatch.com, is not surprised by the allegations. "They have misled folks for an awfully long time," he said. "They've been the subject of more Donor Watches from MinistryWatch.com than any other ministry." A Donor Watch is a warning not to contribute to a ministry until the problems identified in the Donor Watch are corrected.

But TBN has a history of dodging bullets, even those fired at point-blank range. The Los Angeles Times, MinistryWatch.com, and the Trinity Foundation, a ministry watchdog group, have all investigated TBN and have all published damning evidence, but with little effect.

TBN attorney Colby May told me the accusations of Koper and McVeigh regarding TBN are "bold faced lies." He accused Koper and her husband of embezzling and misappropriating money and property from TBN and International Christian Broadcasting (ICB), and said the lawsuits are attempts to divert attention from her wrongdoing. May also said TBN and ICB have turned documentation of Koper's wrongdoing over to both the IRS and local law enforcement, but neither has charged Koper with any crimes.

Years of negative publicity may be one reason TBN finances have taken a turn for the worse. The organization still lists nearly $800 million in assets, much of it in cash or other liquid assets, according to MinistryWatch.com-but deficits totaled more than $18 million in 2010, the last year for which numbers are available, and assets fell by about $30 million from 2009 to 2010 alone.

Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

Warren, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., is vice president of WORLD News Group and the host of the radio program Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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