SCANDALS PLAGUE HINN’S MINISTRY

A legal settlement totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, revelations of heroin abuse, and a gag order imposed upon a former security chief have all cropped up within the ministry of faith healer Benny Hinn.

Last October, Hinn and his church, along with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, agreed to pay $610,000 to 10 religious protesters who brought suit after they said they were arrested without cause outside the church of the Orlando-based minister. In June 1996, Pastor Ricky L. Johnston and members of his Volusia County congregation were demonstrating in front of Hinn’s World Outreach Center when they encountered the church’s security force.

An early investigation revealed that members of the sheriff’s department, who also worked at the World Outreach Center, had harassed and illegally arrested the protesters. A six-month internal investigation by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department also turned up falsification of off-duty records, lying to investigators, and abuse by commanders of their positions of authority. The findings resulted in the firing of two commanders, the resignation of a volunteer reserve deputy, and the suspension of three other officers. The televangelist’s younger brother, Christopher Hinn, was the reserve deputy who voluntarily resigned from his reserve deputy post.

The trespassing case became known as “Church-gate” among the media in Orlando. The charges made against the demonstrators never were prosecuted. Cmdr. Steve Jones, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department, told The Orlando Sentinel, “Settling their lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office was cheaper than going to court.” He also stated, “The agreement is not an admission that the agency was at fault.” According to the newspaper, the portion of the settlement agreed to by the Sheriff’s Office was $310,000, which includes $10,000 to cover the legal costs of the plaintiffs. Additional money, according to Jones, would come from Hinn’s church.

Despite the agreement, not all the protesters were favorable to the settlement. Pastor Johnson issued a Nov. 3 statement to the court and to all attorneys involved that said, “Some things are not about money.” He condemned the nine other plaintiffs from the Wholeness in Christ Ministry, saying that, “Benny Hinn bought each of you for a dollar.” He further stated that Hinn “got his money, by preying upon the Hopeless, the Sick and Destitute.”

Then in December, revelations of the heroin-overdose deaths of two of Hinn’s employees hounded his ministry. The deaths which occurred in late 1997, finally came to light in a report in the Dec. 2, 1998 edition of The Orlando Sentinel newspaper. Up until the newspaper’s report, details of the fatalities were known only by law-enforcement and church officials.

The newspaper disclosed, “A longtime aide to Orlando minister Benny Hinn died of chronic heroin abuse last December, a month after coming under suspicion of supplying a fatal heroin overdose to another church worker.” David Delgado, who served the televangelist for a decade, was found dead in New York City after returning from Hinn’s crusade in Jordan. According to the newspaper, Delgado, 45, began as a “catcher” (one who keeps those being “slain in the Spirit” from hitting the stage floor) at Hinn’s healing campaigns and escalated to become a friend and personal assistant to the faith healer. He would help organize details such as Hinn’s “schedule, meals and grooming.”

Delgado’s widow, Mary, revealed that her husband knew he was dying from cirrhosis of the liver, which can be a side effect of heroin abuse.

According to Orange County sheriff’s records, at the time of his death, Delgado was under suspicion for the heroin-related death of Sydney Williams. Williams, who at one time took care of Hinn’s son, Joshua, and later drove a truck for the ministry, died Nov. 15, 1997 at his Florida home after injecting himself with a massive dose of heroin. Delgado was being investigated in the death because Williams appeared to have been drugged following a visit to Delgado’s home.

Officials at Hinn’s ministry stressed that they had begun random drug testing of employees as a result of the deaths. It declined any knowledge of drug use by Delgado and Williams and issued a statement that, “Benny Hinn Ministries has given many people the opportunity for employment who have rebuilt broken lives through Biblical principles, healing and a new way of life.” Church spokesman David Brokaw told the newspaper, “We will not tolerate and will not condone illegal drug use by employees of the ministry. When we find out about it we will act immediately.”

And then just one week after the drug overdose revelations, the Orlando newspaper reported that Hinn had “gone to court to block his former security chief from disclosing financial secrets that an adviser testified could destroy the television ministry.” Mario Licciardello found himself slapped with a federal court gag order to keep from making known information about the financial practices of Hinn’s ministry. The newspaper reported that “Licciardello is demanding money to keep him from revealing what he knows about allegations of theft and corruption at Hinn’s World Outreach Center.”

Hinn employed Licciardello in 1997 to conduct an internal investigation of possible “wrongdoing and corruption concerning the handling of offering money” received by the ministry in the mail and at its international healing crusades. Church officials said the investigator was hired to ensure proper and adequate security measures for the handling of donations.

During the investigation, Licciardello secured sworn statements from nearly three dozen current and former church employees. Hinn’s organization is insisting on the return of the transcribed copies of those testimonies, in addition to any written account of the conversations he had with Hinn and any documents detailing the personal lives of former employees which were compiled by the church.

The conflict between Licciardello and Hinn’s ministry began in September when, following a routine security check of the Oklahoma investigator, it was discovered from obsolete court papers that Licciardello was arrested and convicted in 1967 in New Jersey for burglary and theft. He thought the conviction had been deleted from his record, having received a pardon for the crime, the report stated. As a result of the disclosure, Licciardello complained that church officials tried to destroy “his reputation by conducting an illegal check of his background” and that he planned to reveal to the “secular media” the findings of his investigation into Hinn’s business dealings.

Hinn’s church officials maintain that, “There was no theft and no corruption.” And in a subsequent Sentinel article, Hinn’s organization tried to squelch details that originated from within. The report stated: “Lawyers for evangelist Benny Hinn were mistaken when they wrote in court papers that an investigation of corruption in the ministry resulted in the firings of several ‘high-level employees,’ a Hinn spokesman said.” Two of the ministry’s higher echelon, chief operating officer Gene Polino and head of international crusades Charles McCuen, left the organization in 1997. Attorney Stephen Beik said the resignation of these men had nothing to do with the Licciardello inquiry. “It was a joint decision that it was time for them to move on,” Beik told the newspaper.

Church administrators say Hinn’s organization is estimating $60 million in donations for 1998, up from $50 million in 1997 and $35 million in 1996.

—MKG

 

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For more information on the doctrine and practice of this controversial faith healer, see:
The Confusing World of Benny Hinn