Tampa -- Without Walls International Church says it will give a home to a young mother who never received the grand prize in a church giveaway five years ago.
It also says pastor Randy White has "arranged and paid for" an attorney for an elderly member who says she was never repaid a $170,000 loan to White and his wife, pastor Paula White.
The statement, published Thursday in the Tribune's editorial pages, came in response to three news stories and an editorial about the problems involving LaShonda Dupree, the contest winner, and Ruth McGinnis, the widow, among other matters.
The church statement from the board of directors, issued through the Tucker/Hall public relations firm, agreed that Dupree's situation is unfortunate. It said the church is working toward a happy ending.
Dupree said Wednesday she was contacted by someone from the church after the May 25 story about the contest. She was told the church would give her a house, and that she must pay insurance and taxes. She was given a list of homes to look at in the Brandon area.
She won't believe the deal is done, though, until she has a deed to the property and "keys in my hand," she said.
Efforts to contact her Thursday were unsuccessful.
In November 2002, the 20-year-old single mother of three became a finalist in the contest called "Home For The Holidays."
She won the top prize during a highly publicized service repeatedly aired as part of a ministry fundraiser on the Christian Television Network. Teary and jubilant on stage, Dupree said in May that she thought she'd won a new, $100,000 house in Temple Terrace. Other winners received a used car, a year of paid utilities, $5,000 in new furniture or a $500 gift certificate for groceries.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Paula White took Dupree and her three young children on a tour of the home, asking the little girls to choose their bedrooms.
Dupree never received the house.
The prize was to be a down payment, which Dupree knew. The church knew, though, that she didn't prequalify for the mortgage, she said. So when she won, she thought the house had been purchased for her.
She said the church used her story to bring in donations.
Today, she lives with her four children in a Brandon rental home.
"… Because this entire incident ended badly, embarrassing both LaShonda and the church, the Revs. White along with the board of directors of Without Walls International Church have now authorized the purchase of a home for LaShonda and her children," the church's statement said, "and we will begin the process of working with her to find a suitable residence."
The financial issues involving McGinnis were the result of confusion, not malice, the statement said.
In 1995, McGinnis, now 85, lent the Whites $170,000 toward a $650,000 home in Lutz. As part of the agreement, the Whites signed a contract promising to have McGinnis live with them as a family member for the rest of her life. A promissory note outlined terms for repaying the loan. McGinnis showed the Tribune the documents, along with original receipts involving the transaction.
In May, McGinnis told the Tribune that the Whites reneged on their deal within four years and she moved back to her south Tampa home. She said she seldom saw the couple, except on holidays, special occasions and at church services. They'd repaid only $2,000 of the loan. The Whites sold the house in 2006 for $1 million.
McGinnis said Thursday she no longer wants to comment on her financial arrangement with the Whites. "We hold no grudge against each other," she said.
"Because it appears that Mother Ruth has lost the documents and perhaps has forgotten the financial arrangements that were put in place, Bishop Randy has arranged and paid for Mother Ruth to have her own attorneys review the arrangements with her and ensure that she will continue to have the peace of mind over her finances," the statement said.
The revelations about Without Walls, which collects $40 million a year in revenue and is one of the nation's largest independent churches, have piqued interest nationally. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine, one of the oldest and largest U.S. Christian publications, commented on it in an online column titled "There's Trouble in Tampa Bay."
Grady wrote June 8 that he felt a "bit woozy" after learning about "yet another potential scandal" among independent charismatic ministries. The magazine is studying the situation, he wrote. Coincidentally, Paula White appears on this month's cover.
"I hope we discover that the charges are baseless because the body of Christ has endured enough disgrace in the last year," he wrote online.
Paula White told Grady that she has been advised not to make an official statement. She said, "Mother Ruth continues to sit on the front row and LaShonda continues to come to church every Sunday."
Dupree said Wednesday she has been to the church only occasionally in recent years; she attended a Sunday service two weeks ago with her parents, who remain members.
The Without Walls statement was issued by the church's board of directors: Randy and Paula White, Norva Carrington of Tampa, Zachary Timms of Heathrow, and Alec Clarke of Acton, Calif.
The Whites and Jeff Tucker of Tucker/Hall did not respond for comment Thursday evening. The church statement said Without Walls and the Whites "will have nothing more to say about these matters."