Iglesia collections stashed in Cayman?
IGLESIA ni Cristo (INC) members in the United States were asked to bring $100 bills for their offerings, a former head of the church’s foreign mission said as he confirmed receiving reports about INC leaders skimming cash off collections as early as 2011.
Allegations that collections from cash offerings in the United States were being stashed possibly in the Cayman Islands have been swirling for some time, said former minister Isaias Samson Jr., who was expelled in July on suspicion that he was the one who wrote critical online stories about the INC governing council.
Samson said that back in 2011, the arrival of a roving auditor to pick up the entire collections after worship services, instead of these being deposited in a bank, raised alarm bells among some congregations in the United States.
“I know the members. They’re very close to me. And they were asking me: ‘How come offerings are being picked up immediately and the members were being asked to bring $100?’” he said in an interview last week.
Samson received the reports when he headed the church’s foreign mission from 2007 to 2012. An ordained minister for 43 years, he was a resident minister in the United States for 18 years and in Europe for two years.
Old system clean
He said the standard practice was to deposit the collections in a bank to be accessed by the sect’s US main office in California. “There was a paper trail; it was clean [under the old system].”
When the new scheme was carried out, only amounts below $100 were deposited in the bank, Samson said.
“This scheme probably began in 2011. The members were shocked but they’re very obedient. They just rationalized that the church needed the money for the construction of chapels until they found out that commissions were being made out of the construction of chapels,” he said.
Samson was unaware if the reports reached INC executive minister Eduardo V. Manalo.
Of an estimated 3 million INC members in the Philippines and abroad, some 100,000 can be found in the United States, according to Samson.
He accused INC leaders of illegally detaining him in mid-July, a charge dismissed by state prosecutors. He had been suspected of blogging about corruption in the 101-year-old homegrown church under the pseudonym Antonio Ebangelista. He has denied this.
Scheme reported to IRS
American Vincent Florida, a former minister in the INC Northern Virginia congregation, has reported the sect, Manalo and general auditor Glicerio Santos Jr. to the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for tax fraud.
Florida told the Inquirer he filed his report in IRS form 3949A for failure to pay taxes in August.
The form is used for reporting suspected tax fraud, including false exemptions or deductions, kickbacks, false or altered document, failure to pay tax, unreported income and organized crime.
Florida left the church on July 30 amid charges of corruption in the INC and abduction of ministers critical of the sect’s leadership.
He claimed that congregations were asked to convert cash collections into $100 bills and turn over the money to district auditors. He said only offerings in checks were deposited in the bank.
The district auditors in turn remitted the cash to Santos during pastoral visits.
“The cash just disappeared,” Florida said. “Mid-Atlantic is the smallest in INC’s eight districts. Can you just imagine? We’re talking millions of dollars from the congregations, with no paper trail. They’re circumventing the tax laws of the United States.”
INC spokesperson Edwil Zabala said the INC leadership would respond to Florida’s allegations “in due time and in the proper forum.”
He did not respond when the Inquirer sought his comment on the alleged diversion of INC collections.
INC insiders, collating testimonies from members in the United States, documented a scheme committed right under the noses of some ministers.
According to them, the scheme works this way:
The offerings are converted into $100 bills at a local or parish for easier transport, collected by the district auditor or minister “under duress” and brought to a collection center, like a conveniently located chapel.
The collections are consolidated at a hotel where Santos, the INC’s chief finance officer, is billeted, or stashed in a vault at the church’s US main office in California, for eventual pickup.
The scheme is carried out during “big events”—when Manalo or Santos is around for a pastoral visit—and in locals headed by “obedient” resident ministers.
In their calendar, the major cash-generating thanksgiving services are held in the third or fourth weekend of July and in the third week of December.
Congregations in Long Beach, California; Elizabeth, New Jersey; Washington, DC; Temple Hills, Maryland; Bronx, New York; Seattle, Washington; Anaheim, California; and Corpus Christi, Texas, received verbal instructions to collect $100 bills for the thanksgiving service in July, the insiders said.
The insiders said it wouldn’t be a surprise to find a huge drop in bank deposits.
Cayman Islands, Switzerland
For instance, from $20,000 in December 2011 and $20,500 in December 2012, the deposits dropped to $12,000 in December 2013 in a certain local, they said.
“These are brought to the Cayman Islands through a small plane and then a big plane. The plane is registered in Cayman,” Samson said, citing reports from members in the United States.
The transport of money allegedly by the church-owned Airbus could not be confirmed.
Florida alleged that Manalo, Santos and other INC leaders had managed to stay under the radar for years because they carried the cash on a private plane that they used for their regular pastoral visits to the United States.
Samson said he had also received information that an Airbus had taken the INC leaders to the Cayman Islands and Switzerland. With a report from Jocelyn R. Uy