A ministry already shrouded in turmoil is now the subject of more federal scrutiny.
The U.S. Department of Justice, in a court filing, is seeking forfeiture of the House of Prayer’s assets, totaling more than $150,000 from six separate bank accounts belonging to the church and its educational arm, according to Court Watch.
The DOJ alleges the House of Prayer Bible Seminaries and its parent organization, the House of Prayer Christian Churches of America, operated a “criminal scheme” to “defraud the United States of money and “its military veterans of monetary educational benefits.”
According to a report on military.com, Georgia, Texas and North Carolina regulatory agencies reported the church’s educational efforts had lost eligibility for GI Bill proceeds.
Church property was seized in late July 2022, after federal agents obtained warrants in the Southern District of Georgia federal court.
According to the complaint filed by the DOJ in federal court, the House of Prayer Bible Seminary obtained approval to receive VA education assistance benefits by telling the VA it was providing courses to veterans, and other eligible people, taught by HOPBS instructors at HOPBS facilities. Those facilities were in Hinesville, Hephzibah, Fayetteville, N.C., Killeen, Texas and Tacoma, Wash.
Hephzibah is near Fort Gordon, outside of Augusta. Fayetteville is adjacent to Fort Bragg, Killeen is near Fort Hood and Tacoma is close to Joint Base Lewis- McChord. The federal complaint says the church established its locations in proximity to bases “in order to target military service members and veterans.”
The HOPCC “targeted military service members and veterans, seeking to exploit them and deprive them of their benefits,” the DOJ said in its complaint.
Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the HOPBS received direct tuition payments from the VA. There were more than 300 veterans enrolled in HOPBS courses between January 2013 and February 2022, according to the federal complaint. VA enrollment certification records show that a majority of the veterans were enrolled as full-time students, requiring at least 18 hours of in-person attendance per week.
The DOJ also alleges the HOPCC used psychological efforts, such as public shaming, financial coercion and control of the smallest aspects of the lives of military members and veterans “in order to control and exploit them economically.”
According to the complaint, church members were directed to enroll in the House of Prayer Bible Seminary and to use their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to pay for instruction and cause direct payments to the seminary and the church.
The DOJ further charges that the seminary directed students “to falsify educational records, including attendance rosters” and that students were not given a pathway toward successful completion of the program. Additionally, the complaint continues, students had course plans changed without their input and consent. The seminary also denied or delayed providing students with documentation about their education, to include transcripts and evidence they had completed courses and programs.
Students also were misled about the content of the courses and programs they were taking, according to the complaint, and they were misled about their ability choose courses, the grading system and the instructors’ qualifications.
The seminary also did not provide grades to students and rarely tested them, the DOJ alleged, and the seminary falsified records, including course attendance and graduation records.
Agents from the FBI and the VA’s Office of the Inspector General interviewed witnesses, including former students and former HOPBS employees, reviewed VA and financial institution records and looked at complaints to the VA submitted through an online system.
“Had HOPBS related truthful and accurate information, rather that the materially false statements and/or omissions in the preceding paragraph and sub paragraphs, HOPBS would not have been authorized to operate in the state of Georgia and, as a result, would not have been certified to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill program benefits and would not have received money from the VA,” the DOJ’s complaint states.
In his story for Court Watch, Seamus Hughes reported that a U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Georgia spokesman declined to comment beyond what was submitted in the motion in federal court. The House of Prayer did not respond to a request to comment through its website.
For more, see https:// seamushughes.substack. com.