FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (CN) – The Christian organization Gospel for Asia is a “vile scheme” that defrauded donors of more than $450 million to build a “reprehensible … multimillion-dollar personal empire,” not to help the poorest of the poor, as promised, a donor claims in a federal class action.
Dr. Garland Murphy III and his wife Phyllis claim that at the behest of its leader, co-defendant K.P. Yohannan, Gospel for Asia diverted hundreds of millions of donated dollars to profit-seeking businesses, an expensive Texas headquarters, personal homes, and an international sports team sponsorship.
Four other individual defendants in the RICO lawsuit include Gospel officials and directors, including Yohannan’s wife and son.
The Feb. 16 lawsuit minces no words. It begins: “Soliciting charitable donations to benefit the poorest of the poor while covertly diverting the money to a multimillion-dollar personal empire is reprehensible; using a Christian organization as a front to attract and exploit the goodwill and generosity of devout Christians is a particularly vile scheme. But that is exactly what K.P. Yohannan and the organization he controls — Gospel for Asia, Inc. — have been getting away with for years.”
The Murphys, of Bentonville, Arkansas, say that Gospel for Asia raised more than $450 million in donations from the United States alone from 2007 to 2013, much of which Yohannan redirected to his personal empire.
“Despite repeated, explicit guarantees from GFA to donors, only a fraction of the donated money supports the people and causes for which it was donated,” according to the 43-page complaint.
Though the defendants promise donors their money will be used only for the specific projects they select, the complaint details three specific instances in which, the class claims, of thousands of U.S. donors were defrauded, including through Gospel’s most popular donor option, the “Bridge of Hope” program.
This program promises to provide a child in India with “Jesus” love, a quality education, a daily meal and medical care, for a $35 monthly pledge.
But the actual cost to support a child in “Bridge of Hope” was less than $8.20 per month, according to the complaint. It claims that in 2013, Gospel received more than $15 million in donations designated for “Bridge of Hope,” but spent only $6.3 million on child welfare.
It also misdirected money designated for “Jesus Wells,” a program to provide clean water and to help orphans and widows, the class claims.
“Despite GFA’s explicit representations that it would spend in the field 100 percent of every dollar donors designated for the field, GFA spent only $14.9 million of $118.6 million on actual relief efforts, instead spending far more on salaries and overhead,” according to the complaint.
The Murphys call Yohannan, Gospel’s founder, “central and principal actor in making the misrepresentations.”
Based Wills Point, Texas, defendants Gospel for Asia and Gospel for Asia-International also has offices in the United Kingdom, Germany, South Africa, Australia, India, South Korea, Finland, New Zealand, and Canada.
The Texas headquarters is a 350-acre compound with a multimillion-dollar chapel and more than 80 single-family homes for members. The IRS recognizes Gospel as both a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and a religious order.
Gospel for Asia did not respond to an emailed request for comment Tuesday.
Its website says it is committed to financial integrity and “to good stewardship of the funds entrusted to us by our friends and donors.”
“When a donor sends in the monthly support for their missionary, nothing is deducted for administrative purposes – 100 percent is sent directly to the mission field for its intended purpose,” according to the website’s financial integrity section.
The organization says it subjects itself to annual, independent financial audits.
But the Murphys say in the lawsuit that the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountable, a private oversight body that reviews finances of Christian organizations that solicit charitable donations, decertified Gospel for Asia in September 2015 after investigating its finances.
“All told, ECFA found that GFA violated five of the accountability group’s seven core standards,” Christianity Today reported in October 2015. “As a result, the ECFA board voted on October 2 to cut ties with GFA. The board said its decision is final.”
Gospel for Asia told Christianity Today it “accepts the decision with regret and sadness.”
The Murphys seek class certification, restitution, an injunction and punitive damages for racketeering conspiracy, fraud, deceptive trade and unjust enrichment.
Their lead Woodson Bassett III, of Fayetteville, is assisted by the Stanley Law Group and Mills and Williams, both of Dallas.