The Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN) said Tuesday that a civil lawsuit filed against it by the founders' granddaughter and the company's former finance director is "meritless and contrived," adding more arguments to what has become an epic scandal involving the largest Christian television network.
Brittany B. Koper, granddaughter of TBN founders Paul and Janice Crouch and their company's former director of finance, has filed a civil lawsuit alleging that the network knew and kept quiet about broad financial inaccuracies benefiting its founders. Koper and her husband, Michael, who formerly managed sales of TBN airtime, allege that the network's directors have illegally taken advantage of more than $50 million in "charitable assets," while misleading the IRS and misappropriating millions of dollars of donations from Christians around the world.
The couple claim they were fired last September after Brittany Koper brought several suspected financial inaccuracies to her superiors. The Kopers also allege that TBN has violated its status as a nonprofit on multiple occasions. In an interview with The New York Times, Brittany Koper stated: "People have been conned by my grandparents."
Meanwhile, the network claims the Kopers were fired for stealing $1.3 million to buy real estate and cars and make family loans, and only came back with their own allegations later, in retaliation.
TBN National Spokesman Colby May reiterated Tuesday that the Kopers' accusations were "false claims."
"Far from being the innocent crusader seeking to bring correction to supposed financial impropriety she 'discovered' shortly after becoming TBN's finance director, Mrs. Koper concocted accusations against her former employer after she and her husband Michael Koper admitted that they had taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from the ministry," May alleged in a statement Tuesday.
The network also accused Michael Koper of dishonesty in presenting himself as a U.S. Army veteran, which supposedly increased the directors' trust in him. That trust "was based in large part on his claim of heroic and life-threatening military service," TBN said in its statement.
"The disturbing reality, however, is that Mr. Koper never served in the military or as a Marine in Afghanistan. But his claims nonetheless helped him obtain a position of trust, and allowed him and Mrs. Koper to misappropriate ministry money to purchase a home along with an investment condo, 'lend' tens of thousands of dollars to Mr. Koper's uncle, and even put Michael's own father on TBN's payroll for a non-existent job," May alleged.
The TBN spokesman claims the Kopers admitted to these and other mischiefs, such as creating a bank account in the company's name which they alone controlled, and "siphoning off over $175,000 in third-party payments to the ministry into that account."
"The Kopers subsequently offered their apologies, but when restitution and return of the monies became more difficult than they anticipated, they fled California for New York and threatened to create a public scandal to damage TBN," May said.
The network has also fired back against The New York Times article published on May 4, which presents TBN as a money-machine interested in garnering donations to buy the founding family luxury items, among other privileges. TBN denied the network orchestrated "sweetheart deals" with family-owned businesses, as alleged by the Times report. The "special luxury accommodations for pets" and "other extravagant perquisites" purchased for the network's founders, as reported by the Times' Erik Eckholm, were based on the Kopers' lawsuit, TBN claims.
"From housing to transportation to investments in TBN's extensive program library, every network expense has been successfully calculated (and accounted for) to add bottom-line value to the ministry's mission and purpose," May said Tuesday.
As the Times pointed out, the ministry's donations totaled $93 million in 2010, and the Crouches have not been transparent in how that money is being spent.
The "plain truth," May countered, is that "with 35 broadcast and production studios across the nation, scores of others around the world, and the necessity of non-stop travel by network executives, TBN has saved millions of dollars over the decades in airfare and lodging, and the financial value of its aircraft and real property has appreciated greatly."
"In fact, wise stewardship and accountability have been the key to TBN's success, and is why its viewers and supporting partners have continued helping fulfill its mission of broadcasting the Gospel around the world," the spokesman added. "TBN has always sought to maintain transparency in the stewardship of its finances."
This is why, even though churches are not required to do so, TBN, classified as a church, has voluntarily filed and released for public inspection an Annual Information Tax Return (IRS Form 990), he said. TBN also conducts two separate annual independent audits, one to assure compliance with IRS rules and a second focused on its internal financial accounting and operations.
May accused Eckholm of ignoring the information TBN provided him, adding that the ministries do not promote the "prosperity gospel," but have been supporting multiple denominations across the world, including Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal and Messianic.
Meanwhile, Brittany Koper, stood by her allegations last week. She told The New York Times that TBN avoids probing questions from the IRS, which is made easy by the absence of outsiders on TBN's governing board -- currently consisting of Paul, Janice and Matthew Crouch, the founders' son and Brittany's uncle.
"My job as finance director was to find ways to label extravagant personal spending as ministry expenses," she reportedly said.
Koper is reportedly seeking at least $2.5 million in damages in the lawsuit, including over half a million dollars for what she and her husband allegedly returned to TBN after they were fired.
According to the Times report, no criminal charges were filed against the couple by TBN after their alleged theft.
Founded in 1973, TBN will be celebrating 40 years of operations next year. It is the world's largest Christian network, according to the ministry's website, which has grown to 16 global television networks distributed on 76 satellites. TBN offers "a wide variety of inspirational, religious, cultural, and educational programming for all ages." The network claims it has provided millions of dollars in time, money, and resources to support a wide variety of humanitarian, religious, and charitable efforts around the globe, including for natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the Indonesian tsunami, and the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, as well as aid and services to the homeless and needy.
"As I pointed out to (New York Times reporter) Mr. Eckholm, while some may have a different idea of what Christian ministry looks like, and while others may criticize TBN for its doctrines and beliefs or because of its unique style and look, one issue is not open to debate: After 40 years, TBN continues to succeed in its mission to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth," May said in the Tuesday statement.