$1.3M Misused By Texas Baptists - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

11/1/06

$1.3M Misused By Texas Baptists

Much of $1.3 million contributed by Texas Baptists that was supposed to help start hundreds of churches in the Rio Grande Valley was misused by three pastors, and only a handful of the churches exist today, a five-month independent investigation has found.

The investigation found that many of the churches exist only on paper. Others are Bible study groups, not autonomous congregations - which should have made them ineligible for financial help under Baptist General Convention of Texas guidelines.

The independent probe, which was commissioned by the convention and presented to the body's executive board on Tuesday, found that allegations of mismanagement made by other pastors in the Rio Grande Valley were overlooked for years.

Two officials responsible for overseeing the mission money have retired, and another resigned last week, said Bob Fowler, chairman of the executive board. No disciplinary action has been taken against the pastors, and no one has been criminally charged in the case.

"Those who receive funding from the (denomination) to start churches are also stewards of those funds," Fowler said. "This report, unfortunately, portrays a failure in that stewardship."

During the last 10 years, Texas Baptists have tried to make more inroads into the heavily Catholic and Hispanic Rio Grande Valley. As part of that effort, the convention's records show a total of 357 churches were started in the Rio Grande Valley from 1999 through 2005.

Investigators reported that three pastors accounted for 258 of those churches, receiving about $1.3 million from the denomination. Of those, the investigation concluded that only five to 10 churches exist.

The 2.5 million-member denomination missed numerous red flags - including an FBI probe - that should have prompted an internal investigation earlier, the report showed.

"It is difficult to understand why the overall longevity of the complaints and their volume did not attract more serious attention," the investigators wrote.

The investigation, headed by Brownsville attorney Diane Dillard, found no evidence that the pastors gained personally, but said investigators were limited by a lack of subpoena power and incomplete data.

It found that some monthly new church reports, which were used to obtain funding, were fabricated. In some cases, the money was used to enhance other mission projects unrelated to the new churches; in other cases, where the money eventually went remains unknown.

Executive Director Charles Wade said Tuesday that a new system of starting churches with more financial safeguards will debut in January. An internal auditor also will be hired, he said.

Wade acknowledged that neither he nor his staff properly addressed concerns.

"I regret that, and I apologize to every person in the Valley whose cautions and questions and frustrations were neither fully heeded nor resolved," he said.

The matter has not been referred to law enforcement authorities. Fowler said staff is asking its attorneys to examine all avenues for recovering the money.

Source: AP

Powered by Frankly