Televangelist's $3.6 million jet not tax-exempt, Tarrant appraiser says

Fort Worth Star-Telegram/December 6, 2008

A Kenneth Copeland Ministry jet worth $3.6 million has been denied tax-exempt status by the Tarrant Appraisal District, setting the stage for a battle that could require the minister to reveal his salary if he wants the jet to be tax-free.

Jeffery D. Law, Tarrant chief appraiser, said the jet was denied tax exemption because the ministry failed to disclose salaries of directors as an application requires. Law said the ministry, based in Newark, northwest of Fort Worth, will protest the denial at a hearing Monday morning.

"The application requires that they submit to us a list of salaries," Law said. "They have not given it to us, and as a result we have denied their exemption."

Compensation paid Copeland and other members of his family has been the source of a U.S. senator's inquiry, but the televangelist has been unwilling to disclose the information publicly.

If the ministry gives the compensation information to the appraisal district, it would be open to public disclosure, Law said.

The jet in question is a 1998 Cessna Bravo 550 that was given to the ministry last year.

The Cessna 550 has a maximum cruising speed of 400 mph and seats nine. Last year, the ministry said it owned five aircraft, including the Cessna 550 and a $17.5 million Citation X. At the time, it was selling a 1973 Cessna 421.

A ministry spokesman said Friday that he was unable to answer questions about the matter because the chief executive officer was out of town.

Seeking tax exemption

In a July affidavit, ministry accountant John Ratliff responded to an appraisal district request for information by stating that the ministry "is operated in a way that does not result in accrual of distributable profits, realization of private gain resulting from payment of compensation in excess of a reasonable allowance for salary or other compensation for services rendered . . . ."

He stated that the ministry, also known as Eagle Mountain International Church, uses its assets only in performing the organization's religious functions.

However, the ministry said last year that from November 2006 to November 2007, the board approved personal use of aircraft 10 percent of the time.

"Individuals are all charged for personal use of the planes," it said in a statement.

The application for a tax exemption requires organizations to attach a list of salaries and other compensation for services paid in the last year, Law said. It requires a list of any funds distributed to members, shareholders or directors in the last year. In each case the recipient's name, type of service rendered or reason for payment, and amounts paid must be included.

Members and directors of the ministry include Kenneth Copeland, his wife, Gloria, and several ministers, according to documents provided to the appraisal district.

The tax code requires that salaries be disclosed, but it's not clear why, Law said. "There's no mathematical test that we're supposed to apply regarding salaries" for exempt status, he said. "It just talks about 'reasonableness.'

"When you actually...start going through the process of the property exempt or not exempt, there's not much use of the salary information."

It's not the first time the ministry has been reluctant to release certain financial information. Last year, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked Copeland and other ministers to provide financial information to him as part of an investigation into the reportedly lavish lifestyles of televangelists.

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland have given partial responses to most of his questions but didn't answer questions about compensation.

But their church has pledged "its cooperation to the IRS should the IRS undertake a church tax inquiry," it said in a statement in July.

The application requires that they submit to us a list of salaries." Jeffery D. Law, chief appraiser.

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