The lawsuit suggests that the Mormon church redirected tithes toward its own $175 billion investment fund.
Three men have filed a lawsuit against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, claiming that it misrepresented how it would use tens of thousands of dollars in tithing donations.
According to The Deseret, the lawsuit was filed earlier this week in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.
The complaint asserts that the church has, for decades, used “false pretenses” to obtain tithing donations. It names defendants including the church’s corporate offshoot—the Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—and Ensign Peak Advisors, Inc., which manages the church’s investments.
Collectively, the plaintiffs claim that they donated a combined $348,000 to the church. While they had expected this money to be used for charitable purposes, it was instead redirected to the church’s $175 billion investment fund.
Attorneys allege that donations were solicited from churchgoers under the pretense that their money would be given to “various philanthropies, including ‘Humanitarian Relief,’ which provides emergency assistance to victims of disasters.”
Instead, their donations were “permanently invested in accounts [the church] never uses for any charitable work, so that every year, an enormous portion of the donations are never spent for these—or any—purposes.”
“Rather than use these funds entrusted to it for charitable work, COP secreted donations away in Ensign in order to avoid the public scrutiny and accountability to the donors, and instead used them for purposes never contemplated by donors and contrary to representations by COP,” the 38-page lawsuit says.
The New York Post notes that this latest lawsuit has attracted more criticism of the church’s controversial tithing practices, which typically requires that members give 10% of their income to the church.
“One hundred percent of every dollar donated is used to help those in need without regard to race, religion or ethnic origin,” the church says on its websites.
However, this lawsuit—along with another recently-filed claim—suggest that many donations are instead deposited with Ensign Peak, which manages the church’s investment funds.
“COP went to extreme lengths to conceal from the public and its members the actual disposition of donations. It created a special non-profit entity, Ensign, to hold and invest the donations,” the lawsuit alleges. “COP and Ensign egregiously understate the value of its holdings in public filings with the Internal Revenue Service and the Securities and Exchange Commission. This allowed COP to ensure the nature and extent of its assets remained hidden.”
These alleged practices remained hidden for years, until, in December 2019, a church whistleblower publicly revealed information about the investment fund.
The lawsuit repeats allegations made in another, similar lawsuit, including claims that the church used $1.4 billion in tithing funds to help pay for its City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake City, as well as $600 million to bolster the Beneficial Financial Group during the 2008 housing crisis.
The church has continued to deny these allegations.