Evangelist Benny Hinn dazzled an overflowing Reunion Arena
three years ago with plans to bring a touch of Lourdes to Las
The flamboyant Pentecostal preacher offered the crowd a
multimedia tour of his proposed $30 million shrine to faith
healing and solicited donations to pay for it. The start of
construction was imminent, he told followers.
Mr. Hinn's "World Healing Center" never materialized. After
a few months, he stopped talking about the project. His
tax-exempt ministry did not have to give a public accounting
of how much money he raised or how it was spent, and it
Mr. Hinn, who is scheduled to have another Dallas rally
Thursday and Friday at American Airlines Center, declined
through a spokesman to be interviewed. His ministry did
respond to questions submitted in writing and said any money
collected for the healing center had been handled properly.
"All funds were used for their designated purpose, or, at
the donor's instruction, either returned to the donor or used
for an equally important ministry activity consistent with its
charitable and religious purpose," the ministry wrote in
Beyond the healing center, Mr. Hinn's ministry did go
forward with other construction projects.
It built its world headquarters office in Grapevine without
the healing center's stereophonic statue gardens, 500-seat
Gothic cathedral and virtual-reality chapels featuring Mr.
Hinn's faith-healing heroes.
Last year, a subsidiary led by Mr. Hinn began work on a $3
million "parsonage" overlooking the Pacific Ocean south of Los
Despite previous statements by Mr. Hinn and spokesman David
Brokaw that the healing center was put on hold because some
donors or unnamed Las Colinas interests opposed it, the
ministry said in its written response that the decision to
delay the project was divinely inspired.
"Pastor Hinn felt God had revealed to him in prayer back in
February 2000 that the timing was not right for the
construction of the healing center portion of the development
project in Texas, and he should wait," the ministry wrote.
The healing center will be built when Mr. Hinn, in
consultation with his board of directors, "feels it is God's
time to proceed," the ministry stated.
$60 million a year
Mr. Hinn has built his theology around a theory that
sending money to him will bring even greater riches from God.
Mr. Brokaw has told news organizations that the ministry
collected about $60 million a year in donations.
Mr. Hinn's ministry is not required to publicly disclose
its finances. Nor does it belong to the Evangelical Council
for Financial Accountability, a voluntary monitoring
organization based in Winchester, Va., that became prominent
after the late-1980s scandal involving Jim Bakker's PTL Club.
Paul Nelson, the council's president, said he was not
familiar with Mr. Hinn's handling of the healing center
project. In general, Mr. Nelson said, it erodes a ministry's
credibility to raise money for a project and spend it for
other purposes before seeking approval from donors.
"That would be unethical," he said. "It would be pretty
hard to find somebody to stand up to try to defend that that's
Ole Anthony, the president of Trinity Foundation, a
Dallas-based religious watchdog group, said the healing center
project struck him from the beginning as "a fund-raising
The Internal Revenue Service may overlook one situation,
Mr. Anthony said, "but if [Mr. Hinn and his ministry] keep
doing it over and over and over, he's going to regret the
A tax-exempt organization generally avoids IRS scrutiny if
it limits its spending to its stated mission and does not
benefit any individual, agency spokesman David Stell said.
"As long as it's toward the purpose that the exempt
organization stated in its application was its intent to use
the money – to solicit contributions toward preaching the word
or whatever – then it's probably OK," Mr. Stell said.
Mr. Anthony, who has monitored Mr. Hinn for a decade,
said the healing center is one of many false promises the
televangelist has made to finance a globe-trotting ministry
and lavish lifestyle. Mr. Hinn leases a personal jet and
luxury cars and is seen on television laden with gold rings,
watches and bracelets.
charismatic Mr. Hinn, 49, has risen since the mid-1980s to
become one of the country's most popular televangelists. His
show, This Is Your Day , airs several times a day on
the Trinity Broadcasting Network, headed by his friend and
fellow evangelist Paul Crouch.
Name: Benedictus "Benny"
Born: Dec. 3, 1952, in
Catholic schools in Israel and public high school
in Toronto. He did not graduate.
Family: wife, Suzanne; four
Residence: Dana Point,
Businesses: Founded Orlando
Christian Center in 1983. Now president of World
Healing Center Church Inc., based in Grapevine.
Also operates the World Media Center in Aliso
Viejo, Calif., from which he produces a daily
religious program This Is Your Day.
Mr. Hinn's trademarks are his white suits, sprayed
comb-over hairstyle and practice of making followers fall like
dominoes from a puff of his breath, a wave of his coat or the
touch of his hand.
His stage persona, claims of healing and unorthodox
scriptural views – among them, that God originally intended
women to give birth from their sides; Adam was able to fly;
and the Holy Trinity was not one divine entity but three, each
with a body, mind and spirit – have made him a frequent target
On June 3, 1999, Mr. Hinn made the surprise announcement
that he was relocating his ministry based in Orlando, Fla., to
Dallas-Fort Worth because the area offered better
accessibility and more opportunities for expansion.
At the time, Mr. Hinn was under heavy scrutiny from news
media in Florida because of a former ministry security chief's
financial corruption allegations against Mr. Hinn. No charges
were brought against anyone in that case.
Although Mr. Hinn said God gave him the vision of building
a healing center 20 years earlier, he did not begin discussing
the project openly until he was soliciting donations to pay
for the move to Texas.
Honoring faith leaders
He described the healing center as a memorial to faith
healers such as Oral Roberts, Kathryn Kuhlman and Aimee Semple
McPherson. The facility also would be a place "where the sick
can come and be healed without a person like Benny Hinn having
to be there," he said.
The center was primarily for supporters of his ministry.
The cathedral was planned for special events.
By August 1999, Cirrus Group, a Dallas real estate
developer working for Mr. Hinn, signed a contract to purchase
an undeveloped 8.2-acre lot along State Highway 114, about a
mile northwest of Texas Stadium.
The hilly, wooded site is appraised for tax purposes at
$1.5 million. Dan Allred, whose company manages the property,
said Cirrus put up $40,000 to 50,000 in earnest money to hold
the property for 60 days.
Gary Miller, a chief building plans examiner for the city
of Irving, said he discussed building code issues with two
architects working for Cirrus on the healing center during a
meeting Aug. 19, 1999.
His office remained in contact with Cirrus until
mid-September, he said, but never received an application for
a building permit. After the 60 days expired, Cirrus forfeited
the earnest money, Mr. Allred said.
"I don't know what happened," Mr. Miller said.
Mr. Hinn's plans for the healing center did raise concerns
with the Las Colinas Association, a private group that
enforces design codes and deed restrictions within the
Rick Bidne, the association's general manager, said Cirrus
presented preliminary plans in mid-October 1999. He responded
with a letter in early November outlining "issues that applied
to the site."
Association president Heinz Simon and Mr. Bidne said the
Las Colinas Association never told Mr. Hinn or his
representatives that it opposed the project.
Change in plans
Mr. Hinn unveiled his plans for the healing center in a
high-tech presentation to more than 17,000 followers at
Reunion Arena on Oct. 29, 1999.
He said he needed to raise $5 million by the end of the
year and distributed donor cards with preprinted amounts
starting at $1,500. The remaining $25 million was to be raised
over two years, Mr. Hinn said.
A groundbreaking at the Las Colinas site was set for Oct.
30, 1999, but was rained out. A note posted that day on Mr.
Hinn's Web site advised that another ceremony would be
scheduled for a later date.
The first sign of a change in plans came from Mr. Brokaw,
the spokesman. He told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, in
a story published Nov. 19, 1999, that the healing center would
not be built in Irving because the ministry's donors wanted a
larger parcel of land.
Mr. Hinn said nothing publicly about the project until Feb.
22, 2000, when Paul Crouch asked on his television program for
a status report.
"Right after our great crusade there [in Dallas], the
builders came to me and said that the area we were in has
forbidden us, will not allow me to build a place for a church
where our partners can come," Mr. Hinn said.
Cirrus officials did not return telephone calls last week.
He again addressed his decision to postpone the healing
center during an April 4, 2000, appearance on Mr. Crouch's
Praise the Lord program. This time, he cited advice
from evangelist James Robison.
'In no hurry'
"I'm putting all the money we have in the ministry to
get out there and preach," he said. "The day [to build the
healing center] will come. I'm in no hurry; neither is God."
Carol Stertzer, personal assistant to Mr. Robison, said the
Euless-based evangelist wrote Mr. Hinn a letter Feb. 16, 2000,
urging him to abandon plans for the healing center to focus on
"James feels Benny has some giftings and should focus on
those giftings, rather than build a healing center," Ms.
Stertzer said. "That really doesn't seem to have a whole lot
of value, as far as he sees."
In April 2000, Cirrus Group purchased 6.9 acres along State
Highway 121 in Grapevine. Mr. Hinn's ministry began operating
the following July in a 58,000-square-foot building Cirrus
Mr. Hinn, on his television show, asked supporters in
October 2001 to provide $7 million to pay for the office
building on top of the $2 million that already had been spent.
He previously asked them for $1 million to buy office
Home and investment
He did not make a public appeal to help pay for the
luxury home he is building in a gated community of Dana Point,
City records show that planning for the 7,200-square-foot
Mediterranean-style home began as early as August 2000. A $3
million construction loan was taken out on the property in
Mr. Hinn's ministry said its board of directors decided to
build the home as an investment. Mr. Hinn did not participate
in the decision and does not own the property, the ministry
wrote in response to a question.
The ministry also said the homebuilding project "has no
financial connection to the proposed healing center."
The home will sit on a bluff above an oceanfront park.
Other homes in the community are valued between $1 million and
When completed, Mr. Hinn's two-story home will have seven
bedrooms, seven bathrooms, three fireplaces, a library, a
meditation room with a balcony and a five-car underground
The owner of the property is listed as Cove Holding Ltd., a
partnership formed six days before the Dana Point home site
was purchased for $450,000 in August 1997. Mr. Hinn is
president of Cove Holding, which lists its address as his
attorney's office in Irving.
Cove Holding is registered with the Internal Revenue
Service as a tax-exempt, religious title holding company,
meaning that it owns property solely on behalf of a religious
The ministry said the board of directors established Cove
Holding to provide a parsonage for Mr. Hinn. Such an
arrangement is common among religious organizations, the
"The fact that Mr. Hinn is a director or officer of Cove
does not disqualify him from receiving benefits," the ministry
Bruce Hopkins, a Kansas City, Mo., attorney who is an
expert on tax-exempt organizations, said religious title
holding companies often are created to insulate the parent
organization from liability issues.
He said he had not heard of a church establishing a title
holding company to purchase a home for its pastor.
"If it's primarily for his benefit, and he's not paying
rent, then he might have an income tax problem," Mr. Hopkins
IRS officials said they were not familiar with specifics
about Mr. Hinn's ministry.
Over the years, Mr. Hinn has made contradictory statements
about his wealth. At times, he has said he barely scrapes by,
living on royalties from books he has written. At others, he
has acknowledged earning at least $500,000 a year.
In a 1997 television interview, Mr. Hinn maintained that he
did not become a preacher to enrich himself.
"I don't believe it's right to use your ministry to make
money," he told CNN celebrity interviewer Larry King. "But I
do believe [in] making sure your needs are met, and someone
like me has needs."