Preacher for profit: Followers say they were deceived by South Florida pastor's gospel of prosperity

South Florida Sun-Sentinel/May 11, 2008

Followers of the Rev. Daniel S. Mundell invested in his gospel of wealth, but say they saw little return.

To a chorus of "Amens" and "Thank You, Jesus," the Rev. Daniel S. Mundell tells followers God will free them of debt, even make them millionaires.

Then comes the sales pitch: Back up your faith with donations. Give, even if it's your last $100. Write a check. Pay by credit card.

Preaching mostly to a low-income following, the Hallandale Beach-based evangelist has raised millions of dollars through services and crusades in South Florida and across the country.

Former followers say the only one who seemed to attain wealth was the preacher.

Before starting New Generation Ministries in 1991, Mundell had filed for bankruptcy protection and lost a home in a Foreclosure. By 2005, he was living in a $1.8 million estate in Safety Harbor, near Tampa, with basketball and tennis courts and a putting green.

The ministry paid the preacher $206,000 in 2005 and once provided him a Mercedes-Benz, a Jaguar and a Corvette, according to court records.

Mundell, 55, declined to be interviewed, citing "pending litigation." His wife of 20 years and former co-pastor, Kimberly, filed for divorce in October.

"I'm not going to deny that it was lucrative," Kimberly Mundell told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

For 10 years, Mundell preached in the Fort Lauderdale area at the Solid Rock Family Worship Center under the umbrella of New Generation. He raised money for a new church but then left the congregation in 2004. The church was never built.

Mundell traveled the country on crusades, soliciting donations for overseas mission trips he never took and making predictions to followers that they said never happened.

Mundell is now back in South Florida, preaching at Good Shepherd Ministries in a strip mall in Hallandale Beach and rebuilding his ministry after filing for bankruptcy protection a second time last June. He hosts a weekday radio program broadcast in South Florida on WEXY (1520 AM) and several cities around the country.

"Do you need a miracle? Do you need someone to talk to?" Mundell asked in a Feb. 6 broadcast. "Well you can have that happen today, right over the telephone. As you're getting ready to dial the toll-free number that I'm going to give you, your life's getting ready to change."

Appeal to the poor

At its peak in the late 1990s, New Generation took in about $3 million a year, Mundell testified in a July bankruptcy court hearing. In addition to his Solid Rock congregation, he preached on the radio and TV through paid programming in multiple cities.

Mundell's message of "abundant living" helped the white preacher attract worshipers, most of them low- and middle-income blacks.

"What I believe was that he felt like he was called to help the rejected, the downtrodden, the forsaken," said Kimberly Mundell, who is black.

Mundell is part of an unregulated network of traveling evangelists who say they can heal the sick, perform miracles and make the poor rich. They hold crusades mostly in poor neighborhoods, stay until the money stops coming in and split the proceeds 50/50 with the home church, said Kimberly Mundell, who traveled the revival circuit with her husband.

In April, Mundell hosted Apostle J.G. Rice of Columbia, S.C., for a "Flame of Fire" crusade at Good Shepherd. Rice blessed attendees with "miracle oil" and at one service encouraged them to give $300 each in collection envelopes that included options to pay by credit or debit card.

Last year, Mundell teamed with the Rev. W.V. Grant of Dallas. Grant spent more than a year in federal prison after a 1996 conviction for failing to report $375,000 in taxable income in the purchase of two homes, including his $1 million residence.

Grant's "miracle revival" at Good Shepherd lasted more than six months.

"Fifteen thousand souls have been saved. Scores have come out of wheelchairs, off the crutches, canes and out of their braces," Grant wrote in an October letter to prospective attendees.

"My short leg grew out 3 inches!" said the caption over one man's photo.

"I no longer have epilepsy!" said another.

Grant could not be reached despite messages left at his Dallas church.

Phillip Umphres, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Dallas who prosecuted Grant, described the traveling evangelists as a small community.

"There's a whole little subculture and they know each other," he said. "They'll borrow each other's written materials if they're successful."

No 'Silver Spoon'

Born in southern California, Mundell describes in sermons a childhood of poverty. Raised by his Pentecostal grandparents, Mundell says he was saved at the age of 4 and began preaching the Gospel at 8.

"I didn't come from no family with a silver spoon," Mundell said in a Feb. 25 broadcast. "My daddy was a prisoner in San Quentin [Calif.] Prison. The whole time I was growing up we had to go visit him there."

California archive records show Mundell's now-deceased father spent less than four months at San Quentin. He first entered prison in 1961, just before Mundell turned 9, for writing a bad check and returned twice for parole violations, serving a total of less than four years, according to the records.

Mundell preaches that he is living proof of miracles, paralyzed from the waist down from a 1976 car accident in California. Told by doctors he'd never walk again, Mundell says Jesus healed him one night two and half years later.

California police agencies no longer have records from that time. Kimberly Mundell, who met her husband after he says he was healed, said she pressed him for evidence, but he never produced any.

"If what he says is true, it truly is a miracle," said Maria Amador, director of education at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

Preaching financial prosperity, Mundell tells followers that above all God wants them rich. "God made me debt-free and blessed me with multi-million-dollar wealth," he said in a sermon dated Nov. 10, 2006, on his Web site.

By then, Mundell had stopped making mortgage payments on his Safety Harbor home, which he lost in Foreclosure in January. In his bankruptcy petition last year, he listed debts of $1.5 million on the home, credit card bills including $10,385 to Saks Fifth Avenue, and $28,041 in unpaid child support for a daughter from a previous marriage.

"We believed and taught that there was nothing wrong with being prosperous, so the lifestyle fit what he was teaching, preaching, except we weren't debt-free," said Kimberly Mundell, who was not a party in the bankruptcy filing. "We were in debt trying to live the lifestyle."

That lifestyle included European vacations, $1,000 shoes, Rolex watches, and fine Italian suits, she said. And it took root in South Florida.

Trust God and give

The ministry's success soared after Mundell settled in Fort Lauderdale in 1994 and started Solid Rock.

"We hit big," Kimberly Mundell said.

Within three months of his first service in a Lauderdale Lakes office park, Mundell was drawing crowds exceeding 800 worshipers.

Annette Hopkins of Margate, who met Mundell on a crusade, was so taken by the preacher that she moved from St. Louis to South Florida in 1998 to be part of his ministry.

"People believed in him," she said. "You were encouraged not to hold back in your giving, to trust God."

Hopkins said she donated tens of thousands of dollars.

Former Fort Lauderdale resident Winnie Francis, now of Land O' Lakes on Florida's west coast, said she gave about $20,000 one year. "I wasn't even earning that much," Francis said, adding that she used savings and proceeds from property she sold.

Preaching mainly from schools and leased buildings, Mundell told his congregation he would build a church.

"It was going to be beautifully decorated," Hopkins recalled. "I gave, we gave."

Property records show New Generation purchased 4.5 vacant acres in Oakland Park in 2003, land upon which Mundell said a church would rise. A little more than a year later, Mundell closed Solid Rock without ever breaking ground.

"The very night he said the church was closing, he took up a collection," Hopkins said. "We never knew what happened to the money."

In June 2005, New Generation sold the land for an $800,000 profit. Two months later, Mundell and his wife bought their $1.8 million estate, putting down $525,000, records show.

Kimberly Mundell said the couple used some of the proceeds from the land sale in the purchase of their home. She provided New Generation bank records that show four payments totaling $189,366, three to an escrow account and the fourth to a title company.

"We felt that was the church's money," Hopkins said.

Now 71, Hopkins said she had planned to retire but is working as a substitute teacher as a result of the money she gave to Mundell.

"I have no regrets," she said. "I gave it to the Lord."

As for the preacher, Hopkins said: "It's over for me and his ministry."

Money for missions

Sandy Miller met Mundell at a crusade in Dallas in 2006.

"He just was friendly, knew you on a first-name basis," she said. "He did a lot of promising, that it's your time for the Lord to bless you financially."

Miller said she gave the preacher about $16,000. Her daughter, Kelly Smith of Santa Monica, Calif., said she reviewed her mother's financial records and calculated the total was $43,000.

Mundell talked about his missionary work in poor countries. Skeptical, Smith attended a crusade he held in Los Angeles and pressed the preacher for details of his work via e-mails, copies of which she provided to the Sun-Sentinel.

Mundell sent Smith photos from India, though he was not in them, and an e-mail that he described as confirmation of an upcoming trip to Africa.

"We are under a great burden of finance for our upcoming mission trips," he wrote to Smith on Aug. 13, 2006. "I want to ask you if you can give an offering any thing would help, also you may have some friends that might want to help. I have to send a payment next week."

Miller said the mission trips never occurred. Kimberly Mundell said they were canceled "because we did not have the money to go."

Miller, 66, now lives in an assisted living facility in Glendale, Calif., unable to pay her bills, and is financially dependent on her daughter. She said her once-trusted preacher stopped taking her calls.

"He dropped me like a hot potato," Miller said.

Promising money

Mundell's message of prosperity struck a chord with his mostly poor followers in North Carolina, said Monte Carr, who had heard Mundell's radio show and helped bring the preacher there for crusades, the last one in 2006.

"He promises in his broadcasts that somebody's mortgage is going to get paid, somebody's bills are going to get paid," Carr said. "That's what appealed to us was the idea and concept of giving back to the people of need."

Mundell urged crusade attendees to give donations and in return God would bless them, Carr said.

Carr said one follower took out a $600 loan. Another, a Hurricane Katrina evacuee from New Orleans, gave the preacher her $1,000 tax refund. Carr herself gave the preacher $1,000, she said.

"I'm in the middle of a divorce," Carr said. "He said, 'God's going to send you a wonderful husband; he's going to be a minister.' I haven't seen this man yet."

Carr said attendees complained to her when their blessings never came true.

"He continues to send these people letters saying, 'Give me money and in seven days this and that is going to happen to you,'" Carr said. "These people believe in him and they're sending their hard-earned money, and these things never happen."

Mundell continued holding crusades and in March 2007, started a ministers' training school in Norfolk, Va. He held Sunday services and again raised money for a church.

"Today's offering is going to be the first offering going into the property, not because I need it, you need to give," Mundell said on a videotape of a class last spring.

"He never said where the property was, who he was trying to buy it from, but he wanted us to give," said student Vera Jackson.

The church never materialized. Within several months, Mundell left Norfolk and the 300 students who enrolled in his school. LaVerne Johnson, a school bus driver, said students gave donations, including $100 for a cap and gown and graduation banquet to be held in February.

"We did not get to graduate," Johnson said.

Mundell had returned to Florida amid mounting personal debt and allegations of domestic violence.

Family turbulence

On Oct. 7, sheriff's deputies were called to the Mundells' Safety Harbor home. The preacher told them "he had called a family meeting so he could fire Kimberly and her daughter" from the ministry board, said sheriff's spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda.

On Oct. 9, Kimberly Mundell sought a domestic violence protection order from her husband, saying he had "slapped me, punched me, dragged me by my hair, choked me," she wrote in Pinellas County court records.

Kimberly Mundell's mother, Loyce Alexander, who lived with the couple, wrote in a court statement that she saw Mundell "beat and kick my daughter on many occasions."

One time, "I was told if I called 911 he would stomp her to death and beat me, too," wrote Alexander, 78, who said she needed a walker to get around. "These fights would always take place when he would return home from doing a revival. He would be very drunk." A judge granted the order, prohibiting Mundell from being within 500 feet of his home or the ministry's office, also in Safety Harbor.

On Octctober 22, Pinellas sheriff's deputies arrested Mundell at the ministry office on a misdemeanor charge of violating that order, according to records. Mundell has pleaded not guilty, and the case is set for trial in June.

In an e-mail to the /Sun-Sentinel/, Mundell said his wife obtained the order after she had been fired, "listing my office as her place of employment."

"She did so to shut the ministry down, knowing it was no longer her place of employment," he wrote. "I went to my office to collect docs [sic] and equipment."

While in the Pinellas County Jail, Mundell was served with divorce papers. He has filed a counterclaim, calling his marriage "irretrievably broken."

Now preaching at Good Shepherd in Hallandale Beach, Mundell said during an April 27 service that he was called back to South Florida, and predicted that soon lines would form outside with people waiting to get into the mostly empty but growing church. He urged the crowd of about 40 to pledge donations of $100 a month and told them they were on their way to a "debt-free life."

On his radio program, Mundell has announced plans to start a minister's school on May 17, and recently sent a letter to prospective donors with a packet of "gold dust" and instructions to sprinkle it on their bills and credit cards.

God "is poised to bless you with prosperity and abundance," Mundell wrote. "However, He can only do it as you OBEY HIS FAITH INSTRUCTIONS!"

Mundell urged "SEED-OF-FAITH" donations of $7.23 to $25.23, in reference to a Biblical passage that says God rewards faithful servants. The letter ended with a voucher containing payment options and the words, "Dear Pastor Mundell, I would like to sow my seed offering on my credit card."

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