The FBI last week raided three churches associated with the House of Prayer Christian Church in Texas and Georgia after claims of churches committing fraud against veterans using a "seminary school."
The churches, according to the FBI, would encourage veterans to apply for VA disability compensation and then collect it from them through “tithes.”
Multiple student veterans complained to Veterans Education Success, a non-profit organization providing free legal assistance to veterans and military-connected students in higher education.
One member paid for his tuition with the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The veteran asked for receipts after he switched to the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The church refused to provide them. When asked for a transcript and other records, HOPCC officials told him they “don’t do records."
It's also alleged that the church took out a mortgage without their knowledge. One member was deployed in Iraq when he discovered five homes were purchased under his name.
Ashley Demorest, who claims to be an ex-member of the church, posted a video on Facebook with FBI agents at the church Thursday morning.
"This is a Victory for so many trapped and for so many that have gotten free," Democrest said on Facebook.
Georgia Department of Veterans Services claims HOPCC has Bible seminaries in Tacoma, Wash.; Fayetteville, N.C.; Killeen, Texas, Hephzibah, Ga.; and Hinesville, Ga.
The non-profit has 12 churches — 11 of them near military bases. Paperwork shows House of Prayer Christian Church of America Killeen location effective SOS registration date was Sept. 13, 2010.
A report says the church was "lying to VA during inspections, defrauding veterans by keeping students enrolled perpetually without providing them with marketable training, and providing them with no actual education." according to a letter.
Fourteen former church members and one current member made the complaints. Almost all were military veterans.
"Students say they often left class early to recruit new church members or to do chores (such as washing cars and doing construction) for church leaders," the report said.
One former student veteran told Veterans Education Success they were going to class three times a week, but HOPCC told VA that he was going four times a week so he could be classified as a full-time student.
As they would do work for church leaders and go and recruit for the church, they would list it as “church study” study” on paperwork that it sent to VA.
"HOPCC seminary students are required to engage in a form of recruiting called 'soul-winning.' Soul-winning is an organized event coordinated by HOPCC’s clergy."
Five days a week, students are paired up and sent out to bring in new members on or around military bases.
"Students explained they were often let out of class early in order to 'soul-win.'”
The report states base authorities reportedly started cracking down on recruiters. To get around this, students who were still active duty went on base in uniform to recruit.
Higher-ranking military members would "coerce" those in lower ranks to attend the church. According to a former member, students would recruit at different units than their own in order to avoid raising suspicion.
Students say they were not provided with student records or billing information.
We have reached out to the church, but so far they have not responded.