Crossroads Christian Church in Grand Prairie, Texas, revealed Monday that a disputed supplemental retirement benefits package for which former executive pastor Mel Dietz and his wife Vicki sued for millions of dollars was to be funded from natural gas revenues that could not support the plan overtime.
The explanation comes after a jury decided last week that the church failed to provide the couple nearly $4 million in supplemental retirement benefits despite employing them for more than 20 years.
"Crossroads is disappointed that compelling evidence was not present to provide the jury with additional facts, which could have changed the outcome of the jury's decision about the Supplemental Retirement Plan," Andrew Stubblefield, lead trial counsel for the 8,000-member church and an attorney with Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, said in a statement to The Christian Post. "Crossroads remains unfailingly committed to its mission, its ministry, and its members. Once the verdict is finalized, the Church will weigh its options for further action."
A release from the law firm representing the couple, Clouse Brown PLLC, said Dietz worked at the church that preaches financial freedom, from 1995 to 2015. He oversaw church operations and multiple construction projects at the 150-acre campus.
His wife worked directly for Crossroads' senior pastor, Barry Cameron, as his executive assistant. Both Vicki and her husband were participants in Crossroads' Supplemental Retirement Plan. According to The Dallas Morning News, at the time of the couple's retirement in 2015, Mel Dietz's annual salary was $238,194 and Vicki Dietz's was $94,667.
Jurors in the couple's case against the church determined that Crossroads needed to pay $2.3 million to Mel Dietz, and $1.4 million to his wife.
Through their attorney, Keith Clouse, the couple presented documents that showed the church leadership decided in November 2011 to move retirement account funds into Crossroads' "We Believe" building campaign, The Dallas Morning News said.
In 2013, the church broke ground on a 75,000-square-foot, $18 million children's building and opened in August 2015, shortly before the couple retired.
The Dietzes were reportedly aware of the transfer in 2011, but were told the retirement program would be replaced with another plan. "That never happened," Clouse said.
The couple were reportedly also promised additional retirement benefits and bonuses, including a cruise that in tota, amounted to $5.6 million.
Clouse said when the couple asked to be paid after they retired, the church ignored them.
Stubblefield explained to The Christian Post on Monday that the disputed benefits from the church's supplemental retirement plan was to be funded solely through revenue from natural gas that was discovered on the church's property. He could not say when the natural gas was discovered or how much revenue the discovery had generated for the church.
He also noted that the supplemental retirement benefits for the Dietzes was in addition to an existing retirement plan under which they are covered.
"It should be noted that it is a supplemental retirement plan. The church already has an existing retirement plan for all of its full-time employees that it generously funds," Stubblefield said.
He explained that the supplemental retirement plan was started to help them "attract great staff" without "dipping in the collection plate to pay for it." It started with a tiered participation but they later found out they could not afford a long-term plan that would cover all employees.
"It was also testified to at trial that when they say the church couldn't afford this in the long run when they got into it, that's what they mean. It was never intended that the church would dip into the collection plate to fund the supplemental retirement plan," Stubblefield said.
He said it was Mel Dietz who recommended that the supplemental plan be terminated and the natural gas monies be put to better use. Stubblefield said the former executive pastor was included in the decision to end the supplemental retirement plan but "never advised the Board that benefits could still be owed in connection with the terminated supplemental plan."
He added: "The documents the Board directed be executed in connection with the termination cannot be located since plaintiffs' departure from the Church."
Despite the verdict, the jury in the case did not find that the church was fraudulent in its dealings with the couple as well.
"Crossroads is extremely pleased that the jury found no merit in the overwhelming majority of the plaintiffs' claims. Specifically, the jury voted unanimously to reject claims for breach of an alleged employment contract, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and promissory estoppel. The jury's sole finding in the plaintiffs' favor was apparently based on specific language in Crossroads' long-since-terminated Supplemental Retirement Plan, which the Church had planned to extend to the entire pastoral staff," Stubblefield said in his statement.