An Iowa senator is investigating possible financial wrongdoing by six televangelists, including three who sit on the board of regents for Oral Roberts University.
Sen. Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, is requesting financial records from televangelists Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Paula White and Eddie Long.
Hinn, Copeland and Dollar are members of the ORU board of regents. The 5,700-student evangelical school is more than $50 million in debt and fighting claims that its president, Richard Roberts, misspent university funds to support a lavish lifestyle. Roberts has denied the allegations, set out in a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by three former university professors.
An ORU spokesman confirmed the three were on the board, but declined further comment Tuesday.
The senator is requesting information regarding expenses, domestic and overseas bank accounts, executive compensation and amenities given to executives, among other documents, by Dec. 6, according to his office.
“I’m following up on complaints from the public and news coverage regarding certain practices at six ministries,” Grassley said in a statement Tuesday. “The allegations involve governing boards that aren’t independent and allow generous salaries and housing allowances and amenities such as private jets and Rolls Royces.”
Much of the material that spurred the probe came from the Trinity Foundation, a Dallas-based nonprofit that investigates and reports on fraud in religious ministries.
In mid-August, the foundation sent the finance committee four, 3-inch-thick notebooks documenting information from years of investigation into the ministries.
More televangelists are cited in the report, said Pete Evans, an investigator for the group, but Trinity is leaving it up to the committee whether to name them.
Evans said the ministries are using their status as churches to shield them from public scrutiny, when only “a minuscule part” of their incoming donor funds actually go toward church activity.
Evans said he wasn’t surprised Hinn, Copeland and Dollar sit on the ORU board of regents.
“What happens is that most of the televangelists in these circles tend to sit on each other’s boards of directors,” he said. “It’s sort of an incestuous relationship with these ministries.”
Ronn Torossian, spokesman for Hinn Ministries, said in a statement that the church’s board of directors and legal counsel is determining the best course of action to best cooperate with the committee’s inquiry.
“We regard this as an important matter and will not respond until further information becomes available,” he said. “World Healing Center Church complies with the laws that govern church and nonprofit organizations and will continue to do so.”
Julie Spiewak, a spokeswoman for Copeland, said in a statement that Kenneth Copeland Ministries “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.”
Calls for comment to Dollar’s ministries were not returned Tuesday afternoon.
The Oct. 2 civil lawsuit filed against ORU includes allegations of a $39,000 shopping tab at one store for Richard Roberts’ wife, Lindsay, a $29,411 Bahamas senior trip on the university jet for one of the Roberts daughters and a stable of horses for the Roberts children.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, both Richard and Lindsay Roberts denied wrongdoing. Richard Roberts has said the lawsuit amounted to “intimidation, blackmail and extortion.”
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