(Tribune News Service) – Federal law enforcement entered a Tacoma church on Thursday that former members said was a cult that committed fraud against soldiers stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The Savannah Morning News reported similar raids Thursday on the campuses of the House of Prayer Christian Church near Fort Stewart and Fort Gordon in Georgia and Fort Hood in Texas.
The church also operates a location in Tumwater, according to former members.
The FBI’s Seattle field office confirmed that agents conducted “court-authorized law enforcement activity” at the church’s location in Tacoma on South 54th Street, but declined to provide details. additional details. Tacoma police spokeswoman Wendy Haddow said one of the department’s detectives assisted federal agents.
A voicemail message left at the church’s Tacoma location was not immediately returned, and contact information for a central office could not be identified. The News Tribune attempted to contact the House of Prayer Christian Churches of America sales representative who registered with the Washington Secretary of State.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington and Joint Base Lewis-McChord did not immediately respond to requests for information.
Former House of Prayer minister Adam Boles told the News Tribune that he saw officers enter the church in Tacoma around 8:30 a.m. and gave statements to police. Boles, an army veteran who owns a contracting business, said he helped construct the building in 2004 but left the group in 2020 after raising concerns about the management of the church.
According to an August 2020 letter sent to VA by the nonprofit legal aid Veterans Education Success.
Members also accused the House of Prayer of using their personal information and forging signatures to apply for home loans, according to the Veterans Education Success report. Some reported that several properties had been purchased without their knowledge.
The report was compiled from interviews with more than a dozen former members and says House of Prayer operates Bible colleges in Tacoma, Texas and Georgia, which the FBI entered Thursday, as well as a another seminary in Fayetteville, North Carolina, near Fort Bragg. The group also operates 12 churches, 11 of which are near military installations.
Former members say the church is centered on the personality of founder Rony Denis and allege House of Prayer leaders harass and retaliate against those who speak out against the church, according to the report and interviews with The News. Grandstand.
GI Bill Fund
Former veteran students told Veterans Education Success that the church charged them higher tuition than civilian students and increased their payments based on the federal program they received funding from, the report said. A former student reported paying at least $500 per month under a GI Bill program and at least $800 per month under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Former students have also accused Bible schools of changing the curriculum and requirements to keep students enrolled, according to the report.
All of the alumni surveyed said they exhausted their GI Bill funds during seminary without graduating, the report said. Two of them said they had attended seminary programs for more than a decade.
The House of Prayer’s Tacoma Bible College received more than $153,000 in Post-9/11 GI Bill funds from 20 students in fiscal year 2020, according to a VA database. Records show 32 current GI Bill students.
Former students said the majority of those enrolled in seminary programs were veterans and that the House of Prayer used falsified numbers to meet the proper ratio required by the VA to raise GI Bill funds, according to the report.
Students also alleged that teachers were not properly certified, officials counted time spent recruiting new members and performing household chores for teaching hours, and leaders misrepresented the location of rooms. class to VA officials, the report says.
When a student attempted to switch to another seminary program, the school said he would have to start studying again, according to the report.
“I don’t see how VA approved them to be a school,” the student told Veterans Education Success. “It’s not a real school.”
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