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News: Dallas Morning News Stories
What happened to Hinn's promised healing center?

Evangelist raised funds but never built project; use of money defended

06/23/2002

By STEVE McGONIGLE / The Dallas Morning News

Evangelist Benny Hinn dazzled an overflowing Reunion Arena three years ago with plans to bring a touch of Lourdes to Las Colinas.

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.

Also Online
Graphic: Hinn's plans and results
Official site
Hinn Crusade in Dallas:
Thursday at 7 p.m.
Friday at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.

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 didn't.

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 response.

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 Angeles.

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 valid."

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 gimmick."

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 consequences."

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 persona

BENNY HINN

Name: Benedictus "Benny" Hinn

Born: Dec. 3, 1952, in Jaffa, Israel

Education: Attended Catholic schools in Israel and public high school in Toronto. He did not graduate.

Family: wife, Suzanne; four children

Residence: Dana Point, Calif.

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.

The 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.

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 of critics.

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 master-planned development.

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 his crusades.

"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 constructed.

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 furniture.

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, Calif.

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 January 2001.

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 $7 million.

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 garage.

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 parent organization.

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 ministry said.

"The fact that Mr. Hinn is a director or officer of Cove does not disqualify him from receiving benefits," the ministry wrote.

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 said.

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."

E-mail smcgonigle@dallasnews.com

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