The U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion in Georgia earlier this month to seize funds from a church accused of preying on veterans and military members across the United States.
In June, the FBI raided House of Prayer churches across the country after a veterans advocacy organization sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs and Georgia State Approving Agency in 2020.
The justice department claimed the church defrauds military education benefits, and bilks its members of their military disability and pensions, among other allegations.
The church is headquartered in Hinesville, Georgia.
Eleven of its churches around the U.S. are near military installations.
House of Prayer Christian Church in Fayetteville was founded in the early 2000s. Its Hodge Street location was among those raided in June.
Why money is being seized
A Jan. 6 motion seeks forfeiture of more than $150,000, alleging House of Prayer Bible Seminary and its parent organization, House of Prayer Christian Churches of America Inc., and others of aiding and abetting the church “committed crimes,” causing the funds to be forfeitable.
The alleged crimes are conspiracy to defraud the U.S.; embezzlement of public money; wire fraud; conspiracy; money laundering; and engaging in money transactions through unlawful activity related “to a scheme to defraud the United States of money and its military veterans of monetary educational benefits.”
Though no criminal charges have been filed against individuals associated with the church, the FBI and VA’s Office of the Inspector General are investigating allegations of wire fraud.
According to the motion, the Bible school originally received VA education assistance because it represented that it provided courses to veterans in Fayetteville, Killeen, Texas, Tacoma, Washington, and Hinesville and Hephzibah, Georgia.
The Bible school claimed that each veteran received at least 18 hours of instruction in order to receive direct tuition payments from the VA under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the motion states.
About 304 veterans enrolled in courses at the Bible school between January 2013 and February 2022, received more than $15.95 million in VA support, while the school received about $6.91 million for 210 veterans, according to the motion.
The motion states that during that time church frequently moved money among 80 bank accounts to conceal that the VA was the initial source of the money.
The motion states investigators also found that the school “made numerous false statements to the VA,” and that the school’s education services “were not performed” to VA standards.
Among the alleged “misrepresentations” were hours of instruction, qualifications of faculty members, falsely stating students attended courses, falsifying financial records of students’ payments to the school and falsifying graduation records.
The motion further alleges that the church targeted and exploited military service members.
“(The church) used various psychological efforts, including public shaming, financial coercion, and control of minute aspects of the military members and veterans’ lives in order to control and exploit them economically,” the motion states.
*Editor’s Note: This article was published as part of a content-sharing agreement between Army Times and The Fayetteville Observer.