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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

God: Cancel That Debt

by Muriel Kane

In a detailed investigation of South Carolina’s Inspiration Network, the Charlotte Observer reports that the network’s on-air promises that viewers can obtain prosperity and “God’s debt cancellation” by donating $200 or more have made its CEO David Cerullo a wealthy man and his cable network “one of the world’s fastest growing Christian broadcasters.”

With a salary that in 2007 amounted to $1.52 million, Cerulla is “the best-paid leader of any religious charity” and earns far more than CEOs of larger non-profits, such as Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network. An additional $600,000 was paid in 2007 to his wife and children.

Last year, Cerullo’s network had a budget of nearly $80 million, half derived from donations, much of which is going into building the “City of Light” in northern Lancaster County, SC. According to the Observer, “Taxpayers are also helping to pay for it. Eager to bring jobs to a county with 19 percent unemployment, South Carolina offered the network incentives worth up to $26 million to land the campus — a deal that has been questioned by economic development experts.”

Wall Watchers, a watchdog group which monitors religious charities, has called Cerullo’s salary “outrageous” and issued “a ‘donor alert’ to caution people against giving to the Inspiration Networks.” The Observer notes that “IRS rules prohibit nonprofits from paying ‘unreasonable compensation’ to officials. But the agency examines the returns of fewer than 8,000 of the 1.8 million tax-exempt organizations each year.”

Carullo, who has a business degree from Oral Roberts University, insists that his salary should be compared with that of CEOs at cable networks such as CNN. He says his board of directors offered him even more but he turned it down because “I am blessed beyond my imagination. … I don’t need it.”

This is not the first time that the Cerullo family’s interrelated operations have come under scrutiny. David Cerullo’s father, Morris Cerullo, was indicted for tax evasion in California in 2005 — although the charges were dismissed by a Bush-appointed judge on grounds of prosecutorial error — and was sued in 2000 by two former employees who alleged that the elder Cerullo used donations for personal profit.

On that earlier occasion, one of the plaintiff’s lawyers explained that “[Morris] Cerullo purports to have first met God at the age of eight. Since then, his life has apparently been one unbelievable experience after another. He says he was led out of a Jewish orphanage by two angelic beings; transported to heaven for a face-to-face meeting with God; has the ability to predict the future; can heal the sick; and has told audiences when they look at him they ‘are looking at God.’”

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