Mormon Church accused of evading tax laws

Whistleblower: $100 billion stockpiled in accounts
Posted at 4:46 PM, Dec 18, 2019

(CNN) — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as the Mormon Church, responded Tuesday to a recently-filed whistleblower complaint that accuses the church of stockpiling $100 billion in accounts intended for charitable works, misleading members and avoiding paying taxes.

A whistleblower alleges in the complaint, filed with the IRS, that billions of dollars collected in tithes -- mandatory donations by members -- were invested in an investment arm of the church -- Ensign Peak Advisors — but in 22 years, has not been distributed to charitable causes in accordance with IRS rules, according to a report in the Washington Post.

"Claims being currently circulated are based on a narrow perspective and limited information," the LDS Church told CNN in a statement. "The Church complies with all applicable law governing our donations, investments, taxes, and reserves. We continue to welcome the opportunity to work with officials to address questions they may have."

The complaint was first reported by the Washington Post.

The whistleblower is a Mormon who worked for the church until September. He is a former investment manager at Ensign Peak Advisors, the Post reported. He has not responded to CNN's request for comment.

According to the Washington Post, the whistleblower wants the IRS to strip the Mormon church of its tax exempt status. He is also seeking a reward from the IRS.

Under IRS rules, whistleblowers can be awarded up to 30 percent of any taxes and penalties collected.

Philip Hackney, a former IRS official who teaches tax law at the University of Pittsburgh, confirmed the veracity of the document, which was posted online.An IRS spokesman declined to comment citing federal law prohibiting the agency from discussing any specific case. Ensign Peak Advisors declined to comment.

Sam Brunson, a professor of nonprofit tax law at Chicago's Loyola University who is a member of the LDS church, said under Ensign's Articles of Incorporation, "it is both a supporting organization," which means it has to make charitable donations "commensurate in scope" to its funds, and an "integrated auxiliary" which means it might not have to. An integrated auxiliary organization can legally sidestep paying taxes by being a non-profit.

"My guess is that the IRS will probably do nothing" and even if it does, "chances are very small we will find out," he said.

Brunson told CNN that "there is some hurt and questioning" among his friends and church members who worry about those who can't really afford the 10% tithing to a church that allegedly has such a large nest egg. Tithing is a mandatory payment or tax paid by members to the church as a contribution.

And he hopes that the whistleblower's complaint will spark some changes. "Members of the church aren't shareholders, but stakeholders, and there's something good about transparency," he said.

The church added in its statement that most of the donated money was used for education, humanitarian work, meeting houses, missionary efforts and temples. Other money was saved.

"Over many years, a portion is methodically safeguarded through wise financial management and the building of a prudent reserve for the future," the church said in the statement.

In the statement the church made no mention of allegedly accumulating $100 Billion, but did say, "All Church funds exist for no other reason than to support the Church's divinely appointed mission."