TBN Asks Court to Seal Records in Response to Blog Investigation

The Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana, better known as Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), filed an emergency motion in Orange County Superior Court last week to prevent The Orange County Register from publishing information against the network contained in a recent court filing.

The 180-page declaration in question was filed by Brittany Koper, granddaughter of TBN founders Paul and Jan Crouch. Koper formerly served as chief financial officer, director of finance, corporate treasurer and director of human resources for TBN. She filed the declaration on May 10 in support of Joseph McVeigh, her husband's uncle, who is being accused by the network of illegally receiving a $63,000 loan from the network and accuses TBN of misappropriating over $50 million.

The declaration includes a list of allegations made "under penalty of perjury" and copies of credit card receipts and other documents supporting Koper's allegations. The day after it was filed with the court, TBN attorneys claimed the document included stolen or forged information and had the declaration sealed.

Now the network's attorneys want Teri Sforza, a writer for the OC Watchdog, the Register's blog, to stop publishing information from the declaration until the court can determine what to do with it.

Court documents claim Sforza either illegally obtained the declaration after it became inaccessible to the public, or Koper's attorney, Tymothy MacLeod, turned the documents over to the Register and lied to the court about it afterward.

"Any other explanation is implausible," TBN attorneys say in the document, according to the watchdog. "No reporter randomly checks filings unless tipped off."

Sforza says she obtained the documents legally, and claims TBN attorney Colby May had the declaration sealed away only after she had contacted him about it. Sforza also says court reporters do randomly check court filings on a daily basis.

"The declaration filed last week by Koper ... is currently under wraps. We at The Watchdog got hold of the records during a 24-hour window when they were public," she wrote.

Koper's declaration alleges that the Crouch family misused millions of dollars of ministry funds. A 2011 compliance review completed by Guinn, Smith & Co., an Irving, Texas-based accounting firm that specializes in religious nonprofit organizations, is included in the declaration, and reveals expensive hotel stays, dinners, and some other questionable uses of the ministry's money by members of the Crouch family.

Donald E. Guinn, the certified public accountant who signed the review, said TBN accrued over $10,500 for a three-night stay at The Ritz-Carlton hotel in New York City in November 2009. In another instance in June 2010, a TBN leader's bill totaled over $16,000 for a four-night hotel stay.

An examination of a number of meals enjoyed by the Crouch family also raised some red flags in the review. In 2009, there were at least five meals purchased by TBN for Crouch family members that cost between $135 and $212 per plate.

"Although a general business purpose was listed on the receipt, the IRS could easily question the validity of a business purpose when the meal consisted of all family members eating near their homes and near the office at the expense of the exempt organization," said Guinn, according to the watchdog.

Other red flags from the ministry's finance records discovered by Guinn include the personal use of TBN vehicles, undocumented charges on the organization's credit cards, undocumented use of TBN guest houses and more.

"Areas with the greatest exposure include: Unreasonable Compensation, Personal Use of the Organization's Assets, Use of the church's credit card for personal expenses, Excessive Spending," the conclusion of the review states.

May has called Koper's declaration "untrue" and "defamatory," and claims the documents cited in it "appear to be stolen."

Koper currently is in the middle of her own lawsuit against the ministry, accusing its leaders, her grandparents and uncle, of unlawful distribution of assets to the tune of $50 million. TBN says Koper and her husband, Michael, are actually the ones who mishandled the ministry's finances by misappropriating about $400,000.

McVeigh dropped one of his suits against TBN on May 7. TBN's attorneys alleged that the suit violated the state's anti-SLAPP law, which prevents lawsuits designed solely to intimidate or silence the defendants through legal action.

"The truth of the matter is that this lawsuit was never anything more than a smokescreen to obscure the Kopers' own misappropriation of ministry funds, as well as their illegal loan of over $65,000 to Mr. McVeigh," May told Charisma News. "There was never any lavish or reckless spending of ministry money by the Crouches or any other TBN officials: no hundred thousand dollar motor homes for pets, private jets for personal use or any other unaccountable expenditures."

But MacLeod, who is also McVeigh's attorney, told OC Weekly a different story, saying the lawsuit was dismissed in order to fold it into other legal actions against TBN at both the federal and state level.

"TBN keeps filing new actions, up to nine different actions, that have been filed, so what we are trying to do is consolidate all the multiple lawsuits into one place," said MacLeod.

Ken Connor, chairman of the Center for a Just Society, wrote about Koper's lawsuit in a recent column for The Christian Post, in which he questioned the morality, not the legality, of what the Crouches do with their money.

"Just as important, the Bible also teaches that human beings are to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us by our Maker, and that we will all be called to give an account for our use of His blessings here on earth," wrote Connor. "This includes Paul and Janice Crouch, and while they would insist that their stewardship of TBN's resources are honoring to God, they would likely benefit from some serious, Biblically-rooted soul-searching."

The scheduling conference – used to determine how the case will proceed – for Koper's lawsuit will be held on July 16 in front of Judge David O. Carter, a U.S. District Court Judge for the Central District of California.

Barry Bowen contributed research to this article.

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