The 1999 "Parent of the Year Award," an honor created by Congress in 1994, has been bestowed on a Colorado man with connections to a cult that once prostituted its female members as "happy hookers for Jesus."
Moreover, the National Parents Day Foundation, which chooses the annual winner, has been found to have ties to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his Unification Church.
Questions about the recipient's involvement with the Children of God led him to return the award, Gary Jarmin, spokesman for the foundation, said Wednesday.
This year's recipient was Zack Prendergast of Longmont, Colo., who, with his wife, Naomi, operates a nonprofit group called "Family Services."
Former members of the Children of God said Prendergast and his wife are members of the group, which was started in California by David Berg in the 1960s. The group spread worldwide after Berg fled tax evasion charges and led his followers out of the country.
They became infamous when, in addition to prostituting female members, they were linked to child pornography in South America.
The Prendergasts could not be reached for comment.
Jarmin, however, said his organization was unaware of the Prendergast's affiliation with the Children of God when the award was given. He said Prendergast sent a letter Wednesday declining the award but calling the allegations "unfounded."
The Parents Day Foundation shares office space with the American Constitution Committee, a group with ties to Moon.
Jarmin said the apparent connections with Moon were coincidental, but conceded that the bulk of the foundation's money came from Moon-supported organizations.