Gospel for Asia Settles RICO Lawsuit; Agrees to $37-Million Settlement

In court documents filed today, Gospel for Asia settled with plaintiffs Garland and Phyllis Murphy by agreeing to set aside $37-million in a Settlement Fund to provide relief for donors as well as cover court costs and attorneys’ fees. GFA also agreed to have Dr. Murphy join the board of the organization. Murphy and GFA will also work together to designate a replacement for K.P. Yohannan’s wife who will go off of the GFA board. GFA also agreed not to appoint any other relative of Yohannan to the board.

GFA also agreed to create a board subcommittee which shall not include Yohannan in order to provide oversight for the organization’s compliance with the settlement. The mission organization also agreed to comply with Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability guidelines and seek readmission to membership.

Read the Settlement 

GFA continued to deny wrongdoing but nonetheless agreed to establish a stunning settlement fund of $37-million.  GFA will raise the $37-million as follows:

GFA-USA will fund the Settlement Fund as follows: (a) within thirty (30) Days following entry of the Preliminary Approval Order, GFA-USA will transfer $26,000,000 to the Settlement Administrator (via wire instructions provided by the Settlement Administrator to GFA-USA) to an interest-bearing escrow account; and (b) GFA-USA will raise $11,000,000 within twelve (12) months of the date of the entry of the Final Approval Order, which will be transferred to the Settlement Administrator (via wire instructions provided by the Settlement Administrator to GFA-USA) to an interest-bearing escrow account, on or before the end of the twelfth month after the Agreement is executed.

GFA Headquarters Will Be Held as Security

GFA may try to raise funds to pay donors via new donors. In order to make sure the funds are paid to the class members, the headquarters will be held in a deed of trust. GFA has to come up with the money since the main campus is on the line. From the settlement:

To the extent the funds to be raised under Section 4.2.2(b) are raised through donations, they shall be raised through solicitations for general ministry purposes. To secure the obligation of GFA-USA to fund the additional $11,000,000 to the Settlement Administrator, GFA-USA shall grant a deed of trust lien for the benefit of the Settlement Administrator against the GFA-USA campus, such deed of trust to be in the form attached hereto as Exhibit G (the “Deed of Trust”). At such time as the $11,000,000 is transferred to the Settlement Administrator pursuant to Section 4.2.2(c), the Deed of Trust shall be released.

This is a stunning outcome and should be a warning to all nonprofit organizations, especially megachurches. Donors are watching and want to know where those funds are going. GFA is spinning this already on their website but this is a staggering blow to an organization and group of defendants which once bragged that they were above reproach.

I will have more coverage of the settlement over the next few days.

Gospel for Asia Drops Case Against Liability Insurance Company

In August 2018, I reported that Gospel for Asia sued Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company over unpaid attorney’s fees. GFA asserted that their legal costs should have been fully covered by Philadelphia. The insurance company countered that they paid all fees they were required to pay.  The defendant insurer argued consistently since August that the case should be dismissed.

Earlier this month, the case was dropped by GFA. According to a court filing dated January 2, 2019, GFA stipulated to the following:

Plaintiffs Gospel for Asia, Inc., K.P. Yohannan, Gisela Punnose, Daniel Punnose, David Carroll and Pat Emerick (hereinafter “Plaintiffs”), and Defendant Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company (“Defendant”), file this Stipulation of Dismissal under Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1)(A)(ii).

1. Plaintiffs sued Defendant seeking damages under insurance related causes of action.

2. Plaintiffs wish to dismiss their claims against Defendant without prejudice.

Since the case was dismissed without prejudice, GFA could later bring an action. However, for now the suit is over. There is no way to tell if the insurer paid more money.  There is no hint or indication that the insurer budged on that point.

GFA’s class action fraud suit is slated to be tried this year.

Website for Gospel for Asia Class Action Lawsuit Now Active

Donors who contributed to Gospel for Asia between January 1, 2009 and September 10, 2018 are considered members of a class in a pending lawsuit against GFA. Now there is a website which provides background and instructions for member of the class. From the site: GFACLASSACTION.US

There is a pending legal matter in a class action lawsuit against Gospel for Asia, Inc., Gospel for Asia-International, K.P. Yohannan, Gisela Punnose, Daniel Punnose, David Carroll, and Pat Emerick (“GFA”), who are the Defendants. The class action lawsuit involves whether GFA misdirected funds designated for specific charitable projects the donors selected.

The lawsuit is still pending. A judge has not made a ruling in this matter. There are no benefits currently available to Class members and there is no guarantee there will be benefits available to Class Members.  This notice is to inform you of your rights.

You are included in the Class if you live in the United States and donated money to GFA between January 1, 2009 and September 10, 2018.

Those who want to be excluded from the suit must write to the class administrator directly. Otherwise, donors in the class will be represented in the suit by the Stanley Law Group, Basset Law Firm, and Tom Mills. No charge will be assigned for their representation. Exclusion from the suit allows a donor to sue separately from this suit but there will be no benefit to an excluded party if the suit is successful.

Current donors should consider the information contained on this website.

K.P. Yohannan Gives Himself a New Name

K.P. Yohannan has taken on a fancy new name in his role as head of Believers’ Eastern Church. The K.P. formerly known as Metropolitan will now be known as Moran Mor Athanasius Yohan Metropolitan. The reason for the change is described on the church Facebook page:

I wonder if they kept the same secret handshake and hand kissing ceremony.

Mor in Syriac is a title of Lordship or sainthood. Various eastern churches use Mor and/or Moran in titles of religious leaders and Believers’ Church has followed the pattern.

Whatever he is called, he will still have to face a class action RICO suit in federal court and perhaps more over the next year or so as various cases and investigations progress in the U.S. and perhaps in Canada.

 

 

Gospel for Asia Continues to Raise Money for Flood Relief Without Saying How the Funds Will Get to the Needy

A month ago, I asked Gospel for Asia how they planned to distribute donor funds to flood victims in Kerala, India. In 2017, Gospel for Asia’s comparable organization in India (now called Ayana Charitable Trust) and their ecclesiastical arm (Believer’s Church) lost registration with the Indian government to accept foreign contributions. Thus, these groups can’t accept any of the funds now being raised by K.P. Yohannan from foreign donors. GFA very deliberately is raising these funds on the organization website and on social media. If GFA is giving these funds to another nonprofit in India, why can’t GFA simply inform the donor public about this?

When I asked GFA’s public relations firm, I was told:

GFA has headquarters in Kerala, India. Volunteers are actively rescuing, feeding those affected by flooding and providing other supplies.

However, InChrist Communications did not respond when I asked how those headquarters could accept funds when the registration to accept foreign funds had been revoked.

The later a friend of the blog was told that funds were being sent to Believers’ Church in India. Furthermore, the GFA representative said it could not be guaranteed that the donated funds would actually get to flood victims since GFA has no control over Believers’ Church. Actually, this explanation doesn’t make sense because Believers’ Church cannot legally accept foreign contributions.

Saying One Thing and Doing Another

When Compassion International lost their registration with the Indian government, they left the country. GFA has never addressed their loss of registration, nor why they continue to raise funds to send to India when the organizations they claim to support can’t take them. This is an issue for more than flood support. GFA has continued to raise support for sponsored children, missionaries, and all sorts of activities. GFA is telling the public they are doing something that the Indian government says can’t be done. If GFA is getting donor funds to the intended targets, GFA should disclose how they are doing that.

It is a mystery to me why investigative reporters have not taken up this issue. If there is an easy way around this issue, then why didn’t Compassion International use it? While there may an explanation, given GFA’s size and current legal difficulties, it seems like they should have to be more accountable.

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Image Fair use, GFA Facebook page

Gospel for Asia Suing Insurance Company over Attorney Fees in RICO Case

Gospel for Asia has retained Locke Lord to defend them against the allegations of fraud by Garland and Phyllis Murphy. One of their attorneys is Harriet Miers, former White House counsel to President George W. Bush. Furthermore, GFA has to pay the costs of a Special Master since they were sanctioned by federal judge Timothy Brooks. No doubt the costs are high for all of that.

According to a suit filed by GFA in March, GFA’s leaders (K.P. Yohannan, David Carroll, Pat Emerick, etc.)  hoped to recover those legal fees via an insurance claim with Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company. Although details are sealed, it appears the insurance company declined to fully pay GFA’s claim. Here is a brief statement of the dispute from a recent court document.

1.1 GFA Parties bring this action for Philadelphia’s breaches of its common law duty of good faith and fair dealing and the Texas Insurance Code for unfair settlement practices and for failing to promptly pay covered claims as a result of its wrongful denials and/or wrongful delays in providing defenses in lawsuits against them.

1.2. Philadelphia denies that any reasonable defense fees or expenses remain unpaid and contends that, accordingly, this case should be dismissed. Additionally, Philadelphia denies that it breached its common law duty of good faith and fair dealing or the Texas Insurance Code. Philadelphia contends that it had a reasonable basis for the coverage positions that it has taken and liability was not reasonably clear.

For more detail, see GFA’s original petition.

One crucial court document is sealed and Philadelphia Insurance declined to speak to me. In plain language, it appears that the insurance company has found a reason why they believe they are not liable to pay the claim GFA made. It may be that Locke Lord’s fees are beyond reasonable or that Philadelphia believes GFA is at fault in some way. In any case, the trial is to be by jury in late 2019, probably after the RICO trial.

GFA and Lawsuits

For a Christian ministry, GFA here and abroad, is involved in many legal battles. Aside from the RICO suit, and now the action against their insurance company, GFA has sued the Church of South India for defamation. Back in 2015, GFA threatened Patheos with legal action when I published audio of a staff meeting. I wonder how many donor designate their funds for the legal defense fund.

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Image Fair use, GFA Facebook page

Nationwide and Arkansas Class Certified in Gospel for Asia RICO Case

In a major development in the RICO lawsuit filed against Gospel for Asia in the Western District of Arkansas, Judge Timothy Brooks certified a nationwide class of people eligible to pursue a RICO claim against Gospel for Asia. He also certified a subclass of Arkansas donors. The specifics are below:

The judge gave GFA until October 10, 2018 to come up with a suitable plan for alerting donors about this action. This will give donors a chance to opt out of the class if they wish. I will report that process when announced here as well. For now, GFA donors can anticipate being contacted.

This is a significant milestone in this case and opens this action up to all donors (with the exceptions as noted in the judge’s order) since 2009. An exception not noted here are former employees of GFA who signed an arbitration agreement with GFA while employees. In another case involving former employees, a federal appeals court ruled that former employees pressing a RICO claim must submit to arbitration if that was a part of their contract. However, for all other donors, the class certification is a major development.

Read Judge Brooks’ Order

In a related development, Judge Brooks appointed a Special Master to oversee the discovery process. This had been anticipated since Judge Brooks had sanctioned GFA over their lack of response to discovery requests from the plaintiffs.

The Special Master is attorney David R. Cohen of Cleveland, OH. He will have freedom to inspect GFA’s documents wherever he believes is necessary to determine compliance.

I expected that GFA would have made an effort to settle before a Special Master was appointed. I suspect this is causing significant stress in Wills Point, TX and somewhere in Kerala, India.

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Image Fair use, GFA Facebook page

Dear Gospel for Asia: How Will Funds Raised for Kerala Flood Victims Get to Them?

Over the past week, the news out of the state of Kerala in India has been devastating. Due to severe flooding, over 400 are dead and 800,000 have been displaced. Sadly, those numbers are expected to climb. Of course, the natural impulse is to help.

Kerala is the home of K.P. Yohannan, Gospel for Asia (now called Ayana Charitable Trust in India), and Believers’ Church. While it is understandable that K.P. has been informing his followers about what is happening there, he is also doing something that raises a question: K.P. is raising foreign donations to send to flood victims. The question is how will those funds get to flood victims?

In 2017, the government of India canceled the registration of Gospel for Asia (Ayana Charitable Trust), Believers’ Church India, and two other affiliated organizations to receive foreign donations. Yohannan is raising money but it isn’t clear how those funds will get to flood victims when the Indian organizations he fronts can’t receive them?

Different Answers from Different Sources

Yesterday via email in response to a GFA press release asking for donations for flood victims, I asked public relations contact Gregg Wooding of InChrist Communications if he could explain how donations will get to flood victims. He replied:

GFA has headquarters in Kerala, India. Volunteers are actively rescuing, feeding those affected by flooding and providing other supplies.

I wrote back to ask how GFA in Kerala could receive those funds since the Indian government had canceled the organization’s FCRA registration. He did not answer.

Earlier in the day a source called GFA in Wills Point, TX on behalf of my blog and asked how American donations could be accepted in India since the FCRA registrations had been canceled. The caller was told that GFA still is able to operate in India, but the license to receive money is with Believers Eastern Church. The GFA representative said that the funds given to GFA are sent to Believers Church. He added that GFA and Believers’ Church are technically and legally different entities. GFA cannot guarantee money given for India disaster relief will be used for that purpose through Believers’ Church because GFA has no legal or ultimate authority over Believers’ Church. Money given to GFA is preferenced by donors for a certain purpose and Believers’ Church in practice uses the money for what it is preferenced for.

Leaving aside the uncertainty that the Believers’ Church might not use the funds as intended, GFA’s answer doesn’t match what the Indian government says. As I will demonstrate below, the registrations for GFA (Ayana Charitable Trust), Believers’ Church, and two other GFA affiliated organizations were canceled in 2017.  The question remains – how will American funds get to flood victims since GFA and Believers’ Church are unable to receive foreign contributions? Maybe there is an answer to this question, but GFA hasn’t provided one that fits with information available to the public.

FCRA – Foreign Contribution Regulation Act

In India, a charity must be registered with the government to receive foreign donations. There are rigorous reporting requirements as specified by the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and the records are available to the world via the Home Ministry’s website. In fact, those records prompted the early questions about Gospel for Asia’s finances that eventually led to GFA being removed from membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

The FCRA rules are clear that only registered organizations can receive foreign donations (click here for a larger image).

Among other conditions, the rules (Q.2b) state that an organization “must obtain the FCRA registration/prior permission from the Central Government.” In contrast, Q.3i specifies that “individuals or associations who have been prohibited from receiving foreign contributions” cannot receive them.

To determine organizations which have been canceled, one can go to the India’s Home Ministry website and scroll down to the FCRA link.  On that site, there is a link near the bottom left which reads: List of Associations whose registration has been cancelled. If you click through, you will need to select the state of Kerala. Once you do that, you will see Ayana Charitable Trust at the top of the list. Scrolling down you will soon encounter Believers’ Church India and Love India Ministries and Last Hour Ministries.  Here are screen caps of Ayana Charitable Trust (formerly GFA-India), Believers’ Church, Love India Ministries, and Last Hour Ministries on the canceled list).

Since the very organizations which GFA and GFA’s PR representative said will take the money can’t do so, it is a fair and significant question to ask how donations intended for flood victims will get to them.  So far, GFA has not provided a satisfactory answer or provided evidence that the Indian government is wrong. Donors should demand more.

For more on the impact of the revocation of registration to receive foreign funds in India, see this article on Compassion International. When the Indian government canceled their registration to receive foreign donations, they left India. 

 

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Image: with permission Indian Navy (GODL-India) [GODL-India (https://data.gov.in/sites/default/files/Gazette_Notification_OGDL.pdf)], via Wikimedia Commons

K.P. Yohannan’s Believers’ Church to Halt New Admissions to Caarmel Engineering College Amid Financial Crisis

According to the Indian newspaper The Hindu, Believers’ Church Caarmel Engineering College is closing amid a financial crisis. The news provoked a demonstration at the college on Monday. According to video posted on YouTube earlier this week (and embedded below), the college maintains the school is halting new admissions due to a financial crisis but that current students will be able to finish their programs. There were no promises made going forward. Thus, the future of the school is uncertain.

The Hindu report said students and parents were in a panic because the “college management said that they were unable to run the institution further due to financial crisis.”

Although I am not sure of the significance of this, the protest was triggered by the institution being excluded from the yearly allotment list published earlier this week.

Foreign Donations Helped Fund the Engineering School

Caarmel has been the recipient of Gospel for Asia -U.S. donations in the past. According to a filing in an Indian tax court, Gospel for Asia – India and Believers’ Church acknowledged that they used foreign donations for expenses at Believers’ Church Medical Center and Carmel Educational Trust (the trust which manages the engineering school). The quote below comes that court filing. Shri Venkitachalam represented GFA/BC:

On the contrary, Shri Venkitachalam, the ld.representative for the assessee submitted that both the assessees advanced funds to other registered trusts which have similar objects. According to the ld.representative, the assessee advanced funds to BCMET for construction of hospital building. BCMET is also a registered trust u/s 12AA of the Act. The ld.representative further submitted that Carmel Education Trust also a registered charitable trust u/s 12A of the Act was given funds by the assessee to carry out their charitable activities.

GFA/BC hoped to avoid paying taxes on the deflected income. The tax court had this to say about the income redirected to Caarmel and the medical college:

We have considered the rival submissions on either side and also perused the material available on record.It is not in dispute that substantial income of the assessee trust was not used by both the assessees for the purposes for which they were formed. (emphasis added)

This case in itself should help address issues in Murphy v. GFA. In that case, the Murphys assert that GFA didn’t use donations as donors intended. GFA acknowledged as much in their defense against the tax assessor. However, in all of the literature I have read about GFA, I have never read an appeal for donations to the Believers’ Church Medical College or the Caarmel Engineering College. These facilities charge medical fees and tuition. I suspect most GFA donors would be surprised to learn they exist.

In any case, it appears that Caarmel Engineering College is in some jeopardy. This video shows a vigorous protest and upset crowd over the situation.

UPDATE: If I am understanding the English of the speakers in this video, the closure may only be for one class year. The financial crisis may cause the school to fail to begin a class while they may be able to complete the work of classes underway. The situation does seem to be uncertain which has triggered a lack of trust in management.

At one point near the end of the video, a student asks why a financial crisis in Believers’ Church should effect the school since the school generates revenue through tuition.

With a little more digging, I found this video. At 53:53, a man who appears to represent Believers’ Church stands to read a statement which says essentially that Caarmel will not take new students during the 2018-2019 school year due to a “financial crisis” but the current students will be able to continue their studies.

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K.P. Yohannan at Global Anglican Future Conference as a Delegate

Always the colorfully dressed Metropolitan, leader of Believers’ Eastern Church and CEO of Gospel for Asia K.P. Yohannan served as a delegate at the recent GAFCON 2018.

IMG_9465

GAFCON stands for Global Anglican Future Conference and was initiated after the U.S. Episcopal Church consecrated gay man Gene Robinson as a bishop in 2003.

K.P. was featured in an article about the fashion on display at GAFCON.

The extravagantly-coiffured are not limited to the ladies – a couple of Anglican males would give the sisters a run for their shekels. It has been whispered that there will be a competition for the most outstanding beard – a tip that came three months late for me. Seemingly set for any time, any day, any place, the Indian Metropolitan, the Most Rev. K.P. Yohannan, from Believers Eastern Church in Kerala, on the Indian eastern seaboard, would be hard to beat, being imperial in both attire and beard. Yohannan’s bright red cassock, white mane, and genteel character make him an instant attraction for those seeking trip-defining photos to take home.

Apparently, Believers’ Eastern Church is considered to be an Anglican church. GFA has always portrayed their work as evangelical and Believers’ Church as evangelical.

GFA recently had a petition for writ of mandamus denied by the 8th District Court of Appeals in their fraud case Murphy v. GFA. The practical impact of the Court of Appeal’s action is that a special master will be appointed to open GFA’s records and oversee discovery in the case. GFA had been sanctioned by the federal judge in the case for abusing the discovery process and failing to provide documentation of how donations had been spent in keeping with donor intent.

For more on Gospel for Asia see this link: Gospel for Asia

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Images: GAFCON logo – GAFCON.com; K.P. Yohannan – Embedded via Flickr