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Christian Broadcaster Roiled in Controversy

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) - Top bosses of Trinity Broadcasting, the world's biggest Christian network, threatened their CFO with a gun after she objected to their "unlawful distributions" of $100 million to themselves and other directors, the fired executive says in court.

Michael and Brittany Koper, husband and wife, sued Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana, International Christian Broadcasting, Matthew W. Crouch, Janice W. Crouch, and John B. Casoria, on Jan. 29 in Federal Court.

Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana also does business as Trinity Broadcasting Network, according to the lawsuit, which does not name TBN specifically as a defendant.

International Christian Broadcasting also does business as Heroes Under God Christian Broadcasting, the Kopers say.

Trinity Broadcasting Network was founded by Paul Crouch Sr. and his wife, Janice Crouch. Paul Crouch died in 2013.

Defendant Janice Crouch is a senior vice president of TBN.

Her son, defendant Matthew Crouch, is vice president of TBN.

Brittany Koper is the granddaughter of Paul Crouch Sr., and the daughter of Paul Crouch Jr., who is no longer affiliated with TBN. She was TBN's CFO, treasurer and head of human resources until she was fired on Sept. 30, 2011.

Her husband, Michael Koper, was TBN's corporate secretary and a vice president, and a director of Christian Broadcasting, until he was fired on the same day as his wife.

Defendant John Casoria is TBN's general counsel. He is also Janice Crouch's nephew and therefore Brittany Koper's first cousin once removed.

According to the lawsuit, Casoria is also the director and senior manager of Redemption Strategies, a company that "was formed for the sole purpose of maliciously prosecuting, harassing, and intimidating plaintiff Michael Koper and plaintiff Brittany Koper (as well as members of plaintiff Michael Koper's family) in retaliation after the Kopers reported illegal conduct within defendant Trinity Broadcasting, including unlawful distributions to defendant Trinity Broadcasting's members and directors on the order of $100 million." (Parentheses in complaint.)

The extended Crouch family has been involved in litigation against one another for years.

Brittany Koper claims in the new lawsuit that after she was appointed CFO of Trinity Broadcasting on July 5, 2011, and corporate treasurer on Aug. 29, 2011, she learned "through specific instructions" from defendants Trinity Broadcasting, Jan Crouch, Matthew Crouch, and Casoria that her new job required "active participation in numerous illegal schemes that were disclosed to plaintiff Brittany Koper following her promotion."

The lawsuit continues: "The nature of these illegal activities involved the systematic diversion of defendant Trinity Broadcasting's charitable assets through unlawful distributions to defendant Trinity Broadcasting's directors through numerous channels. The magnitude of these unlawful and related financial schemes uncovered by or disclosed to plaintiff Brittany Koper is on the order of $100 million."

She claims that she and her husband were both fired for refusing to participate in the "unlawful activities" the defendants demanded.

The Kopers claim that when they told the defendants the money issues had to be reported to state and federal officials, the defendants told them they would have the Kopers arrested and prosecuted if they did so.

They claim that Casoria told them "that they, too, had broken the same laws and that they were 'prohibited' as 'accomplices' from reporting alleged crimes outside the company." They say they were told that the defendants would have them arrested for "theft" if they took any documents to prosecutors, and that Casoria told them "that they were bound by confidentiality agreements that prohibited them from reporting any illegal activities, and they were threatened with civil lawsuits."

The Kopers claim that during these threats, Matthew Crouch threatened them with a loaded gun, forcing them "to remain in the President's Conference Room against their will."

While Crouch threatened them with a gun, they say, the defendants were secretly recording the encounter.

Paul Crouch Sr. was hospitalized with congestive heart failure on Sept. 1, 2011. While he was hospitalized the Kopers were both fired, as was Brittany's father, Paul Crouch Jr., according to the complaint.

The complaint adds: "When questioned about the termination, defendant Matthew Crouch began tapping the firearm he had brought to the meeting and asked plaintiff Brittany Koper what she thought would happen when she wrote a memo to the board critical of defendant Matthew Crouch's financial improprieties. Defendant Matthew Crouch continued tapping the gun he was holding to ensure that plaintiff Brittany Koper recognized the lethal threat being made."

The Kopers say that meeting alone constituted an assault, false imprisonment and illegal recording. They say they did not learn they had been recorded until Jan. 29, 2014, "and that these recordings had subsequently been edited and manipulated by defendants ... for the purpose of extorting and obtaining money and property" from them.

They seek punitive damages for conspiracy and wiretap violations under state and federal law.

They are represented by Michael Koper, of Port Washington, N.Y., where the Kopers now live.

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