The federal Securities and Exchange Commission charged the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on Tuesday for violating federal tax laws, after a whistleblower revealed the church had allegedly deceived donors into raising money for a massive fund that has never been touched.
Following an investigation into the church’s investment practices sparked by the whistleblower, David Nielsen—a member of the church and former Ensign Peak investment manager — the church agreed to pay $1 million.
A non-profit group under the church’s umbrella in charge of managing its investments, Ensign Peak, agreed to pay $4 million, the SEC announced in a statement on Thursday.
According to the SEC, Ensign Peak failed to disclose the church’s equity investments between 1997 and 2019 and instead filed forms with “shell” companies as opposed to filing them in the company’s name, in a measure that “obscured the church’s portfolio.”
By 2018, that investment fund had grown to roughly $32 billion, with the organization allegedly going to “great lengths to avoid disclosing the church’s investments” and keeping the public and the SEC in the dark about how much money it had accumulated, with Nielsen suggesting it was intended to be used for the Biblical second coming of Jesus Christ, the Washington Post reported.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints did not respond immediately to a Forbes inquiry.
Nielsen filed a complaint with the IRS against the church in November 2019, alleging the church had not spent a penny of the fund in more than 20 years, and claiming it had amassed $100 billion in charitable contributions from members of the church. In the complaint, Nielsen also argued Ensign Peak should be stripped of its tax-exempt status as part of a religious organization because it had not used the fund for charitable purposes. In interviews with the Wall Street Journal, however, the church denied it had committed any tax violations.