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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Nasty Fight Over Control of a Megachurch

ORLANDO (CN) - The widow of megachurch pastor Zachery Tims Jr. sued the church she co-founded with her late ex-husband, in a nasty spat to try to keep control of the New Destiny Christian Center Church, Inc.

Riva Tims sued the church, its board members Sam Anderson, Marguerite and Fred Esannason and the church's new pastor, Paula White, who took the pulpit on New Year's Eve.

Tims claims White ran her previous church into the ground, accumulating $26 million in debt, and that despite this proof of White's "incompetence," the board, in a "wide-ranging conspiracy," hired her anyway, "as president of a megachurch with assets in excess of $4 million dollars."

Tims sued on Dec. 29, seeking an injunction to keep White out. But White presided over a New Year's Eve service, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

In her complaint in Orange County Court, Tims says: "The defendant White was the spiritual mother of the deceased Pastor Zachery Tims Jr., and by virtue of this position or intimate relationship" she became, with the board, "an active co-conspirator in a conspiracy or perhaps multiple conspiracies, acting separately or in concert at the same time, to control, monopolize and manipulate the tool and function business to the detriment of plaintiff and others qualified to be the succeeding pastor of New Destiny, by virtue of single handily [sic] and without the consensus of the congregation, appointing a new pastor."

Tims claims she should be the pastor, and the congregation should have had a vote on it.

According to her complaint, she and her husband founded New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Fla., in 1996 after leaving their church in Baltimore. The church grew from six members to more than 8,000, according to its website.

The Timses went through a public divorce in 2008, amid gossip about Zachery's infidelity. Riva then began Majestic Life Ministries, while Zachery stayed on at New Destiny. They have four children.

Zachery Tims was found dead in a New York hotel room in August 2011. Investigators promised to release results of a toxicology report, but Tims' mother filed an injunction to prevent release of the cause of death.

As the church board pondered whom to hire to replace Zachery Tims, the public eye turned upon his ex-wife and White, who co-founded Without Walls International Church in Tampa.

The church hired White and Riva Tims sued on Dec. 29.

Tims calls White's appointment unlawful and "part of a wide-ranging conspiracy."

She claims the board wrongfully fired her in 2009 after her divorce. Before she was fired - and, she claims, afterward as well, as the firing was illegal - she was assistant pastor, vice president and a member of the board.

Citing church bylaws, she claims that assistant pastor becomes president of the church upon the "absence or disability of the president (pastor)". (Parentheses in complaint.)

She claims she should have been allowed to vote with the board on the new pastor, and that the board's recommendations should have been passed on to the congregation, for a vote.

She alleges conspiracy, tortious interference, negligence and unfair trade.

She also alleges breach of fiduciary duty and negligent retention against the board members, claiming they should not have hired "a new pastor who is in debt and unable to properly run a small and/or medium size church, let alone a megachurch, with assets in excess of $4 million dollars."

According to the complaint: "Following a 2006 audit of the International church Pastor White runs, it was discovered and made public that Pastor White is well over $26 million in debt." Tims claims the board "knew or should have known that defendant White's accumulation of debt in excess of $26 million dollars would cause her to be incompetent as president of a megachurch with assets in excess of $4 million dollars."

Tims is represented by Lucia Trescott with the Law Offices of Robert Gibson in Jacksonville.

(Update: A few hours after Courthouse News posted this story on Tuesday, Jan. 3, wire services reported that Tims dropped her lawsuit. Courthouse News killed the story and inserted this editorial note in the event that an Internet search manages to find the original CNS report.)

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