America’s most popular supermarket tabloid claims famous televangelist Joel Osteen “is caught up in a financial scandal,” using his Houston megachurch to sell his books.
The National Enquirer alleges that New York attorney Richard Garbarini – who previously helped two musicians in a lawsuit against Osteen and his Lakewood Church accusing the church of unauthorized use of a song – is charging that Osteen uses his Houston-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit to hawk his bestsellers.
“He’s leveraging the church as a money-making vehicle! The church pays (to air) his sermons, which are just de facto infomercials to promote his books,” Garbarini purportedly told the Enquirer. “The Lakewood Church is a shell to funnel people to his website so he can sell his books.”
WND called Lakewood Church three times to ask for comment on the allegations, and each time the person answering offered to connect WND to a spokesperson but disconnected the phone call. The woman answering refused to provide any other contact information.
The Lakewood Church website sells several of Osteen’s books, including his latest hot seller, “You Can, You Will.” The product listings do not indicate whether the proceeds of the sales go to the church or to Osteen himself. In 2005, Texas Monthly reported that Osteen contributed “a substantial portion of his earnings” from one of his books to the church.
The following is a screenshot of the Lakewood Church website:
The Internal Revenue Service states, “To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual.”
The Enquirer said, “Osteen’s rep called Garbarini’s allegations ‘false and baseless,’ adding: ‘For more than 50 years Lakewood Church has adhered to the highest standards of honesty and integrity.'”
The tabloid magazine also quotes Daniel Borochoff, head of the nonprofit watchdog Charity Watch, who argued that Garbarini may be right to be concerned.
“A non-profit needs to be acting in the public interest and not in the private personal business interests of Joel Osteen,” he explained. “The church should benefit from the royalties of these books when they are shouldering at least some of the cost of promoting them. If it isn’t getting something back, it oughta be. It’s too much a promotional vehicle for him.”
People Magazine reported that Osteen stopped taking his $200,000 salary from the church in 2005. His net worth is estimated at $40 million, and he reportedly lives in a 17,000 square-foot Houston mansion valued at $10.5 million. The home has six bedrooms, six bathrooms, three elevators, five fireplaces, a guest house and pool house.
The New York Times reported Lakewood Church – former home of the Houston Rockets – features a 16,000-seat arena, three enormous television screens, two waterfalls, enough carpeting to cover nine football fields, a café with wireless Internet access, 32 video game kiosks and a vault to hold the church offering. In March of this year, burglars reportedly stole at least $600,000 from the church safe, which was a portion of the donation from just one weekend of services.
According to the National Enquirer, former Illinois deputy attorney general Floyd Perkins said Osteen isn’t violating any laws.
“Typically the person who runs the church writes the rules,” he said. “My experience is that many people who participate have no idea there are no rules at all. It really becomes an ethical question rather than a legal one.”