Fellowship Church leased jet travels to exotic destinations

WFAA-TV News, Dallas/April 26, 2010

He told his congregation he had nothing to hide.

He insists a News 8 investigation about his lifestyle was wrong.

But Ed Young - the pastor at Fellowship Church in Grapevine - may soon have to answer for the numerous trips by the leased church jet to resort locations. It's luxury air travel that costs tens of thousands of dollars per trip.

For months, News 8 has requested interviews with Pastor Young. Each time we have been referred to a New York public relations firm for answers.

Yet they have declined to answer simple questions such as: "Who uses the jet, and for what?"

Fellowship Church in Grapevine has thousands of members on five campuses. Young says his church and travels have allowed him to minister to more than a quarter of a million people.

But Young may be best known for his 2008 sermon urging married couples to have seven days of sex, an appeal that was so sensational he made guest appearances on several network programs, including "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central.

But Young is somewhat less eager to talk about the News 8 investigation into the leasing by Fellowship Church of an $8 million Dassault Falcon 50 private jet, which Young keeps in a hanger at Fort Worth Alliance Airport.

While Young is not legally or professionally obligated to disclose anything to his congregants, he did respond to our report about his travel three days after our initial story aired in February.

"This year I am flying commercially like a mad dog to places all over the world," Young said. "I have also chartered planes."

Last on his list of preferred air travel was something he had not disclosed to his congregation until after our story - his use of another type of air travel.

"We also lease private aircraft," Young told his congregants .

"The plane used by Pastor Young is used primarily for vital Ministry affairs," according to a written statement from a public relations firm hired by Young. "This plane has allowed Pastor Young access to minister to more than a quarter of a million people who he would otherwise would not have been able to reach. "

But FAA flight logs obtained by News 8 tell a more detailed story.

Using dates, times and destinations dating back to March 2007 when the jet was acquired, we plotted the trips on a monthly calendar. The record shows the jet was used on 416 days in less than three years.

On many of those days - 150 of them - the jet was parked at an airport in Miami where Young has a branch of his Fellowship Church.

But as we found out a few Sundays ago, Young and his associates regularly minister to the Miami congregation via satellite signal beamed to their church from the Fellowship Church in Grapevine.

The question is, of those 150 days the jet was in Miami, how often was Young on the jet and how often was he actually serving his congregation?

According to the New York public relations firm, "Pastor Young is personally very active at his Miami Campus. He often returns week after week to lead sermons."

Despite all of those trips to Miami and all of those days in southern Florida, Young's church services are held only one day a week.

But there is one place belonging to Young that is open 24/7. Specifically, a condominium which Young made passing reference to in his address to the congregation last February.

"I have a condo. It's not paid for, either, but I have invested in a condo; I have that," Young said.

Young's condo is located in a new high-rise building in Coconut Grove, Miami, which is gated and off-limits to the public. His 2,600 square foot unit was purchased in 2007 for $1.1 million.

From his 16th floor front balcony, the Youngs enjoy a spectacular view of the Dinner Key Marina, the largest marina in Florida.

Also of interest to Young in south Florida, one of his admitted passions, fishing.

In addition to the trips to Miami, the church jet took Young on a five-day trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where - in addition to visiting a few area churches - fishing was on the menu for him and his attorney, Dennis Brewer.

We asked the church for a list of its ministries. None was located in Cabo San Lucas.

Add to that six trips by the church jet to the Bahamas, one to Anguilla, one to Belize, and one to England.

Again, when asked for a list of foreign ministries, none of those countries was mentioned.

The church jet also made several much shorter trips to Young's hometown of Houston, and others to Austin, and Gainesville.

The jet made ten trips to Tyler, just 100 miles away, where the Church maintains a lodge and retreat.

There were multiple trips to New York, with at least two coinciding with his network appearances. Air travel is usually paid for by the networks themselves.

Again, Young and the church have declined to answer questions about the jet's use and its costs to the congregation.

According to the Bluestar Jet chartering service, it costs $15,000 to hire a similar jet round-trip from Alliance Airport to Tyler.

From Alliance to Cabo San Lucas, the cost is $35,000

From Alliance to New York, $50,000.

From Alliance to Miami, $42,000.

Multiply that by the fifty times the church jet has flown to Miami in less than three years and the cost of those trips alone would amount to $2.1 million.

The lingering question: Who picks up the tab for any personal travel, and are the Fellowship Church congregants unknowingly paying the price?

In February, Young told his congregants the answer is "no."

'When I do anything personally, whether it be on a commercial aircraft or a charter aircraft, I always, always, always pay for it," Young said. "I have teams of accountants watching every single penny."

News 8 asked to speak with Young's Board of Directors who approved his travel, and were told no.

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