The Mormon church is being sued by three members who claim their combined $348,000 in donations was used to pad the church’s $175 billion investment fund rather than for charitable purposes as they were led to believe.
Plaintiffs claimed in the bombshell suit, filed Tuesday federal court in Salt Lake City, that they were told their donations would do to “various philanthropies, including ‘Humanitarian Relief,’ which provides immediate emergency assistance to victims of disasters.”
Instead, these donations “are permanently invested in accounts it [the church] never uses for any charitable work, so that every year, an enormous portion of the donations are never spent for these — or any — purposes,” according to the suit.
The legal action brings more scrutiny about how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints handles its vast financial holdings bolstered by so-called “tithing” by members who contribute 10% of their income. The church doesn’t publicly disclose details about its finances.
On its website, the church denotes: “One hundred percent of every dollar donated is used to help those in need without regard to race, religion or ethnic origin,” per the court filing.
Nevertheless, the church has been accused of depositing many of the funds in a church-affiliated investment manager called Ensign Peak, which has amassed a cash reserve valued at as much as $175 billion, according to The Christian Post, which cited a report by The Widow’s Mite.
The Widow’s Mite group — made up of anonymous “current and former church members” — prepared the report using “publicly available sources,” and claimed that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has an estimated wealth of $236 billion as of 2022, could become a $1 trillion denomination by 2044.
The Post has sought comment from Christopher Moore, media relations manager for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which claims on its website that it has upwards of 16.6 million members.
Legal counsel for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment.
The lawsuit, reported earlier by the Associated Press, is also seeking class-action status, which would potentially involve millions of church members whose donations may have not been used as the institution said it would.
The lawsuit also comes months after the church and Ensign were filed a collective $5 million by the Securities and Exchange Commission for using shell companies to conceal the sheer size of its investment portfolio.
The US federal agency was tipped off to the 13 shell corporations being used to hide church assets by whistleblower David Nielsen, a former Ensign investment manager, who penned a 90-page memorandum to the US Senate Finance Committee demanding an investigation into the Mormon church’s finances.
The church agreed to pay $1 million and Ensign $4 million to settle the dispute.
The latest lawsuit references Nielsen’s memo, which said Ensign has only spent funds twice in its 26-year history.
The first time was in 2009, when it shelled out $600 million to bail out failing church-owned, for-profit life insurance company Beneficial Life, according to the memo. Then, between 2010 and 2014, “Ensign made a series of payments — again using donated dollars exclusively — for the construction of the City Creek Mall in Salt Lake City, totaling $1.4 billion.”
This week’s lawsuit is similar to a filing made in California federal court by James Huntsman earlier this year. Huntsman — the brother of former Utah Gov. John Huntsman Jr. — said that the church used upwards of $1 billion in member donations to save one of its failing businesses, though the church has condemned the claims as baseless.
Huntsman’s lawsuit remains pending, though it recently scored a partial success on appeal.
In the filing, Huntsman — who left the church in 2020 and now works as a filmmaker in California — seeks the return of the $5 million he donated before leaving The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
This week’s lawsuit was filed by Daniel Chappell of Virginia, and Masen Christensen and John Oaks, both if Utah, in Salt Lake City District Court on Tuesday, calling for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to have an independent entity oversee its donations.
Chappell, Christensen and Oaks said in the lawsuit obtained by The Post that they collectively donated roughly $348,000 to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over the past decade.
Chappell said that since Jan. 1, 2013, he’s donated $108,000, while Oaks has coughed up $74,000.
Christensen — the only one of the three men who’s still an active member of the Mormon church — said he’s donated $120,000 during that same time period, plus an additional $46,000 through “donor-advised funds,” which allows for donors to receive an immediate tax deduction.
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