RICO Lawsuit Filed Against Former Mars Hill Church Leaders and Alleged Co-Conspirators

A guest post by Brad Sargent, aka brad/futuristguy.

Earlier today, Warren Throckmorton posted RICO Lawsuit Filed Against Former Leaders of Mars Hill Church. You can find a PDF of the 42-page complaint at this link. Filed by Brian and Connie Jacobsen, and Ryan and Arica Kildea, it names Mark Driscoll and John Sutton Turner, along with other alleged co-conspirators.

This RICO lawsuit against leaders of what was Mars Hill Church has been in the making for a long time. RICO stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations. This is an extremely serious matter, and I believe there is a significant amount of information about alleged wrongdoing available. I spent at least 300 hours during 2014, researching and analyzing details in order to produce a case study on Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll. If I remember correctly, it’s about 70,000 words – the equivalent of about a 160-page paperbook book.

On the first blog page of that case study is a summary of my reasoning for why I believe this type of lawsuit against Mars Hill leaders is justifiable; the allegations are not trivial matters. And note that I wrote most of the material on that page December 1, 2014. I originally put it on my blog as an article: Capstone 2-6: A Lawsuit Against Mars Hill Church Could be a Just Cause Because … I think you’ll find the entire article informative, but here is the key section of that page and post, just as it appeared over a year ago:

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

For those who process information best with lists, here is my rationale, in brief, for why filing a lawsuit against Mars Hill Church is legitimate.

  1. Mark Driscoll, through Mars Hill Church, sought to wield significant influence in the Body of Christ and also in culture, which he/they did.
  2. However, this was done at the high cost of damaging disciples and also creating a terrible name for Christ and Christianity in the community, through the Mars Hill culture of contempt, money-mongering, and idolizing of power.
  3. There are numerous allegations of misconduct outstanding, some of which may have involved activities that are illegal for tax-exempt, non-profit organizations. These are issues of law and ethics we are bound to obey (Romans 13:1-7), not mere opinion differences or trivial disputes between fellow believers as highlighted in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8.
  4. Also, there is an apparent rush to dismantle what was once a multi-campus entity valued at multiple millions of dollars, while maintaining silence about unresolved organizational questions and issues about the current entities that make up Mars Hill Church.
  5. Dissolution of the related 501(c)3 non-profit, LLCs, for-profit companies, etc., will not absolve current leaders of their responsibilities for past problems.
  6. There has been no public disclosure of any impending actions to be taken by the Washington State Attorney General’s office in regard to the dismantling of Mars Hill Church, and the IRS has not been requiring churches to give full disclosure of “excessive benefits” and conflicts of interest, nor investigating churches on possible violations of regulations, for approximately the past five years.
  7. Therefore, I believe a lawsuit may be the only way left to (1) attempt forcing disclosure of critical information under oath, (2) delay the closure of Mars Hill Church in what appears to be an attempt by remaining leadership to remove their responsibility, and hopefully (3) repair and restore a more positive reputation in the public eye.

In my opinion, to deny the validity of a lawsuit against the agents in charge of the demise and damages of Mars Hill Church, we must do one or more of the following:

  • Negate the reality that certain alleged actions by Mars Hill’s directors and staff involve matters of law and regulatory requirements, not merely “spiritual matters.”
  • Deny that Christians have responsibilities to God for fulfilling civic duties to obey governmental leaders and laws.
  • Minimize the damages done by Mars Hill personnel to fellow Christians and to the reputation of Christ in surrounding communities and in society.
  • Refuse the truth that repeated warnings to Mars Hill leaders about their need for transparency and accountability were warranted.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

I have not changed my opinion on the matter in the 15 months that have passed since posting that, because the failures of former leaders to be transparent and to take responsibility have, overall, continued (though a very few former leaders have made helpful statements).

The filing of this lawsuit arrives at a time when I have just finished watching a series of films dealing with investigative reporting, in order to get ready to study the movie Spotlight in depth. So, in the past 10 days, I’ve watched: All the President’s Men (historical drama on the criminal activities surrounding the Watergate scandal), Absence of Malice (fictional drama on an unwarranted investigation of an innocent man, which results in his exoneration and the exposure of those who instigated the probe or collaborated in it), and Shattered Glass (historical drama on the exposure of Stephen Glass, a reporter for The New Republic who was found to have fabricated at least 27 of the 41 stories he wrote for the magazine; he was fired and the editorial staff issued their readers an apology).

One of the main take-aways I got from this set of movies is this:

None of these were about “Gotcha! journalism.” They were not done to “bring someone down.” They just revealed the depth of corruption that was already there.

My prayer is that this RICO lawsuit will spotlight the darkness that was already there at Mars Hill Church and among its leaders. Lessons the Church needs to learn from the multiple forms of misuse of religious authority apparent in this entity will benefit from further documentation. This lawsuit should bring out additional facts of what actually went on, and help bring about justice, because those in control of that non-profit entity seemed to refuse to act with transparency and did so as if with impunity. And it may be that soon, civic consequences will be knocking on the doors of these former leaders and commenders of Mars Hill Church, for what I believe were their severe failures in following biblical ethics and civil mandates.

This opinion piece is cross-posted at Brad Sargent’s futuristguy blog.

Moderator note: The text of the article was edited to clarify that these are alleged co-conspirators, as was stated in the title of the post.

36 comments on “RICO Lawsuit Filed Against Former Mars Hill Church Leaders and Alleged Co-Conspirators

  1. Pingback: RICO Lawsuit Filed Against Former Mars Hill Church Leaders and Alleged Co-Conspirators | futuristguy

  2. Thanks @Barbara … I try to do due diligence. And I hadn’t read that rationale piece in a long time, but it seems to have stood up amazingly well as a description of why this lawsuit (and such other ones against Christian public figures and their churches, ministries, and/or non-profits) make sense.

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  3. Futurist Guy, Thank you for your report. When I read the headline, I almost fell out of my chair. I pray justice will be served in this case. Hopefully it will lead to more lawsuits against other churches that engage in these practices. I also hope it alerts believers to wisely chose their place of worship and insist on knowing where their money goes! At this point it is a travesty that such unregulated mega-churches are tax-exempt.

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  4. “I spent at least 300 hours during 2014…it’s about 70,000 words – the equivalent of about a 160-page paperbook book.”
    ………………………………………………………………………………

    Could very well be more research and writing than that spent by Driscoll on all of “his” books over the course of his entire celeb Christian writing career.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: The Racketeer – Sparking Conversation

  6. I know another large church that several times took large offerings for visiting ministries and then kept it because, “they couldn’t afford to give it to them.” They also collected large sums promising memorial labels on church seats and then never placed the labels. I imagine this was just the tip of the iceburg. I knew these actions were deceptive and immoral, but I never thought they were something that could be prosecuted. Is that the sort of thing that falls in this category? Makes you wonder how prevalent this behavior really is.

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  7. @Mary … from what I understand, if the non-profit states up front what the purpose or project is designated for the funds they are soliciting, they are legally bound to restrict use of funds for that purpose. It is both unethical and illegal to use the funds for other purposes.

    If you’re interested in details on that, see section “04-4. #2 Restricted/Designated Solicited Funds” on this page:

    https://futuristguy.wordpress.com/mars-hill-case-study/04-specific-legal-ethical-issues/

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  8. I find it interesting that the suit names the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and its president, Dan Busby, as co-conspirators. Last fall EFCA dropped Gospel for Asia from its membership following reports of GFA’s alleged financial improprieties. I wonder what effect this suit will have on EFCA and on financial accountability in Christian organizations.

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  9. “Mark Driscoll, through Mars Hill Church, sought to wield significant influence in the Body of Christ and also in culture, which he/they did.”

    Not just significant, but pandenominational influence. A lot of Christians still like to bring up that passage where St. Paul is scolding the Church for some of its members suing each other in secular courts. He asks if there is really no one capable of adjudicating these disputes, with the Holy Spirit and wisdom. My question for them would be: even assuming Mark is a genuine brother and not a wolf in sheep’s clothing, who in the Body of Christ can force him to be held accountable so that nobody HAS to resort to the legal system? We do not live in the era of the apostles…just the fake ones of the NAR, among whom he seems to have found refuge. Driscoll is part of no established denomination with its own church courts and canon law. The one that he was largely responsible for founding has since imploded, and the sheep have scattered. Acts29 still exists, but they booted him out a while ago, and the Gospel Coalition is pretending he never existed.

    Of course, I believe the answer is that the lawsuit passage in question was aimed at real believers in Christ, still dealing with sin on this side of heaven. The more we learn about Driscoll, the more it looks like this probably does not apply to him.

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  10. singleman – Yes, I thought that was interesting too. ECFA has a couple of lawyers on their Board. You would think that they would monitor the advice that they are giving to non-profits.

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  11. In looking at the defendants on the lawsuit, I had to draw out the relationships. The layers of Driscoll’s organizations that he’s a member/manager/trustee of is, I suppose, a clever way of moving money around.

    **Edited chart to include a gray line between MHC and ECFA.

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  12. The ECFA had some deep ties with Sutton Turner in particular, and not just Mars Hill in general.

    In 2014, Mars Hill Church Executive Pastor Sutton Turner is noted in the acknowledgements section as one of only 10 members of the ECFA’s 1st Annual Church Stewardship Survey Advisory Panel. The attention given to Mars Hill is understandable. However, has it also put ECFA into a conflict of interest when it comes to potential “policing” of a member who pays to belong to this certification network?

    https://futuristguy.wordpress.com/mars-hill-case-study/06-partnership-problems/

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  13. @Kathi … thanks for post your chart — I’ve been thinking about it more and took another look at it. My charts were more about the organizational systems. When you add in some of the key individuals, as you’ve done, it looks even more complicated and convoluted — and it also makes sense as to why certain individuals were named as alleged co-conspirators, along with the two named defendants of Mark Driscoll and John Sutton Turner being the main ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Brad – As I was reading the lawsuit, I was trying to figure out the relationships with the minor organizations, thus, the drawing.

    So we have On Mission Charitable Remainder Trust, in which MD is a trustee, which owns 75% of On Mission LCC, in which MD is a manager and pays MD a salary. Then there is Lasting Legacy LCC, which owns the other 25% of On Mission LCC, in which MD is a member-manager.

    Given that the key figures (beside ECFA) surround MHC, no wonder people want to know where the money went.

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  15. @Kathi … and then, with a reported $400,000 advance for signing the contract, plus royalties for sales of books, plus the funds apparently from Mars Hill Church (and not Mark/Grace Driscoll’s own funds) used to promote the book which would bring in more sales and royalties … it does get quite convoluted. And we need to keep in mind that Mark/Grace Driscoll do not even own the copyright to the Real Marriage book — these other non-Mars Hill entities do.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2016/01/05/thomas-nelson-contract-mark-driscolls-real-marriage-advance-was-400000/

    It seems to me that part of “transparency” is (1) the information is readily accessible to those who request it, and (2) the language is relative accessible/understandable even if there are technical aspects to it. But here, the blurring of the lines between non-profit, for-profit, Mars Hill, and Mark Driscoll makes it difficult to figure out whether there was illegal inurement (personal benefit at the expense of the non-profit) going on and/or funds were being “filtered” through what seems to be a series of shells designed to hide the realities of ownership. When a “Christian” institution or individual has a lot of “shells” apparently going on, it doesn’t bode well for either kind of transparency.

    FWIW, reading background on RICO, the criminal RICO laws (not the same as civil lawsuit RICO, which this action is) allowed authorities to seize defendants assets because racketeers hid assets in shell corporations.

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  16. IIRC, the organizational documents made it clear that the pew peons had no say in how the church was run or how it spent money. If people signed a membership contract which affirmed that, do they have a case? I think all the people who served as corporate officers and/or trustees should be held accountable, but I don’t think the law will agree. But IANAL.

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  17. @nmgirl … FWIW, some thoughts about whether the members have a case, since they signed a covenant. I’m not a lawyer either, but have researched the kinds of ethical and legal problems that non-profits get themselves into.

    Regardless of what a church member’s covenant/contract “lets” the leaders do, that doesn’t change the IRS regulations of what leaders are NOT allowed to do. At least one of the key allegations in the RICO suit is that leaders solicited donations for specific purposes — like the Global Fund, the Jesus Festival, etc. — but then spent the millions of dollars raised for other purposes, instead of restricting expenditures to the projects they, the church’s governing leaders, had designated. That is why the plaintiffs claim in that part of the lawsuit complaint, that they were lied to and defrauded.

    Then the ECFA – Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability – becomes involved in what happened because they allegedly knew about this misuse, but did not decertify Mars Hill Church from ECFA membership, inform donors, etc.

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  18. Okay. This blog post is 2 days old, already.
    Where are all the Driscoll fan boys defending their idol? They seem to be sleeping on the job.
    Did they grow up and move on?
    Are they hiding their heads in shame?
    Have some of them left the faith over the fall of their idol?
    It used to be you couldn’t have an article criticizing Driscoll without someone telling us all that he is so relevant while we are irrelevant and jealous of how great Driscoll is.
    My, how things have changed.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Mara,

    A few Driscoll-zombies showed up on Prof. Throckmorton’s blog. They weren’t terribly impressive though, I must say.

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  20. Pingback: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (3/4/2016) – Sparking Conversation

  21. Pingback: Church On The Hill Lawsuit | Lawyer - How To Claim Injuries

  22. Since ECFA dropped Gospel for Asia: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/december-web-only/report-details-why-gospel-for-asia-lost-ecfa-membership.html
    There has been a RICO Lawsuit Filed against Gospel for Asia and KP Yohannan:
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/02/12/did-this-preacher-rob-from-the-poor-to-give-to-himself.html
    It is clear there is something up with over 50 staff leaving in 2015:
    http://donorbewise.com/why-would-so-many-staff-leave/

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  23. Pingback: Rico Lawsuit Requirements | How To Easily Claim Injuries

  24. Pingback: Church Overseer Positions Should Have Term Limits | Thinking Out Loud

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