By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Ole's at it again.
Ole Anthony and his cohort at the Trinity Foundation are behind Senator Charles Grassley's current investigation of six prominent televangelists. As a ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley has sent letters to Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Paula White, Joyce Meyer, Bishop Eddie Long and Creflo Dollar demanding answers to detailed questions about their expenditures, financial practices, credit card statements and other personal information going back years. Anthony told reporters the Trinity Foundation gave Grassley enough material "to fill a Volkswagen."
Former Ole-ites contacted the Dallas Observer to point out that, in fairness, Grassley should ask Anthony the same questions. The media watchdog demands transparency of other ministries, but the foundation, they say, has had its own serious financial problems. ( See "The Cult of Ole," August 3, 2006)
"What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander," says Doug Duncan, once Anthony's right-hand man. Wendy Duncan, his wife and also a former member, is the author of I Can't Hear God Anymore, a book that describes the Trinity Foundation as a cult.
Doug Duncan describes Trinity's most egregious financial transgression as defaulting on $42 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds issued in 1998 for the organization's purchase of 13 apartment complexes in Oklahoma City.
Issued by the Oklahoma County Finance Authority, the bonds were available to Trinity because it was a charitable organization with the stated mission of helping the homeless.
"It was a federal project, underwritten by the government," says Duncan. "This is public money being misused."
The acquisition of 2,045 apartments was ballyhooed as part of Trinity's "Dallas Project" to help the homeless and poor, but from the beginning there were questions about Trinity's ability to service the debt.
"If I were buying the bonds, it would be the first thing I'd wonder," Bryan Krizek, executive director of Christian Relief Services, told the Oklahoma City Journal Record at the time. "That's very strange that an organization of so little experience is involved in a bond deal of this size."
A Canadian-based real estate company filed a lawsuit to stop the sale, saying it already had a deal to buy the complexes. "They're a bunch of Canadian carpet-baggers," Anthony told the Journal Record. "They're trying to stop some charitable work here."
But the deal was less about charity than Anthony's need to have a national platform, Duncan says.
"It was just Ole's way of getting into the public eye," Duncan says. "It put Trinity in charge of millions of dollars worth of property. We'd be landlords with a heart, and we wouldn't evict people. That's a lot of power and influence."
Duncan describes Anthony as so anxious to get the deal done he "scammed his own board of directors." A lawyer and an accountant who worked with Trinity examined the deal and expressed reservations, says Duncan, who was on the board at the time. "But Ole told them not to say anything negative to the board because Ole wanted to do it. If the lawyer and the accountant said this is a bad idea, the board might have gone against it."
After the deal was completed, Trinity members discovered the apartments needed extensive remodeling. They'd paid an inflated price and didn't have enough funds to rehab the complexes.
Trinity defaulted on the bonds in 2000. According to The Bond Buyer, a trade publication, Trinity officials told the management company it hired to divert rents from the project to Trinity's accounts instead of depositing the money into the revenue fund as required.
In April 2000, though Trinity hadn't made payments on the debt for the previous two months, Anthony boasted about the project's success in an op-ed piece for The Dallas Morning News, calling it a "groundbreaking method for allowing faith groups and other nonprofit organizations to provide for the needy and homeless."
In June 2000, The Door magazine, published by Trinity, proclaimed that "the Oklahoma City project was so successful the foundation was offered 160 units in Dayton, Ohio, and they again challenged churches to minister to the residents." (It's not clear if the foundation is still running the smaller Dayton project; Trinity Foundation didn't reply to questions sent via e-mail. John Rutledge, an elder with Trinity, e-mailed to say they needed at least a month to prepare all the material requested.)
Internally Anthony finally acknowledged the project's failure, but little was said to Trinity supporters. The only people who made money on the deal were those who received fees by persuading Anthony to dive into the project.
Samples of additional financial questions suggested by former Trinity members:
"How much of members' tithes and offerings and other donations have been spent for Ole Anthony's pain medications for the last 20 years?
"Please provide the credit card statements for all credit cards used by Ole Anthony from 1987 to 2007.
"How much does the foundation pay annually to rent properties from its directors?
"The 2005 tax statement indicates that $40,306 dollars were expended for 'management expenses.' What are these expenses and who received these funds?
"Were the trips, cruises and vacations given to Anthony by ABC News and others ever reported as income?
"The 2005 tax statement indicates approximately $40,000 paid in utilities. Is the foundation using tax-exempt donations to pay utility bills of the homes of its elders and directors?
"When was the last certified audit done of Trinity Foundation?"