Disgraced celebrity pastor, James MacDonald, has filed a lawsuit accusing a Chicago attorney and accountants hired by Harvest Bible Chapel of engaging in a “smear campaign.”
MacDonald also has posted two videos online with former Harvest elder board chairman, Ron Duitsman, asserting MacDonald is innocent of wrongdoing.
The attorney named as a defendant in MacDonald’s suit, Sally Wagenmaker of Wagenmaker and Oberly LLC, conducted a financial review of Harvest in 2019 and concluded that MacDonald had misused millions in church funds.
Named in the lawsuit is not only Wagenmaker and her Chicago law firm— Wagenmaker and Oberly LLC—but also Schecher Dokken Kanter, a Minnesota accounting firm.
According to the Daily Herald, the lawsuit, filed Nov. 4, accuses Wagenmaker, her firm, and the accountants of knowingly publishing false information so Harvest could gain an advantage in its arbitration with MacDonald.
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“Wagenmaker, Todd, and HBC agreed that they would seek to delay responding to MacDonald’s arbitration demand until after they published the defamatory information against him, and that they would aggressively pursue counterclaims against him in the arbitration once they had publicly destroyed his reputation,” the lawsuit states.
The suit also alleges that Harvest’s elders disqualified MacDonald from public ministry in November 2019 to similarly impact the outcome of the arbitration.
Harvest settled its arbitration with MacDonald in mid-August. As part of the settlement, Harvest gave MacDonald all digital and physical assets of Walk in the Word (MacDonald’s broadcast ministry), including more than $2.5 million in deferred compensation, cash, and insurance money.
Apparently dissatisfied with the settlement, MacDonald earlier this week published a statement accusing Harvest of stealing $6.6 million from Walk in the Word and running a “campaign to destroy my reputation.”
I have repeatedly reached out to Harvest for comment about MacDonald’s accusations, but the church has not responded. I also reached out to Wagenmaker seeking comment but was told she would not be available until early next week.
MacDonald’s Videos Asserting Innocence
In two videos posted to Instagram on Thursday, MacDonald and former elder board chair, Ron Duitsman, continued to make the case against Wagenmaker and Harvest.
Duitsman is one of two elders who, with MacDonald and Harvest, brought a defamation lawsuit against me and the authors of the Elephants Debt and their wives in 2018. That lawsuit was eventually dropped. And about two months after Duitsman resigned, Harvest’s elders apologized to me and the other defendants, calling the lawsuit a “sinful violation of 1 Corinthians 6.”
According to Wagenmaker’s 2019 review, Harvest maintained two private checking accounts for MacDonald, which allowed him to spend millions on personal expenses. The review said that these private accounts were “controlled indirectly by MacDonald and directly by HBC’s former CFO, COO, and an executive assistant.”
Wagenmaker’s findings are consistent with what two former Harvest staff—Bob Langdon, former financial director of Harvest Bible Fellowship, and Alan Tsao, former Harvest comptroller—told me in 2018. Both said Harvest maintained a “black budget”—a portion of the budget that was hidden from all but top church staff and Harvest’s Executive Committee.
However, MacDonald claims in the video that any money MacDonald spent from these accounts was approved by multiple staff. “I went to such great lengths to get approvals,” MacDonald said. “Every time we flew a plane, there was an approval.”
MacDonald then asks Duitsman if the accounts could rightly be called “secret,” and Duitsman responds, “Absolutely not. . . . Total B.S.”
In the video, MacDonald and Duitsman also give their version of some of the events of the past several years. These include:
Dissolution of Harvest Bible Fellowship
According to MacDonald and Duitsman, MacDonald dissolved Harvest Bible Fellowship (HBF) suddenly because managing the coalition of approximately 150 churches was “too much.”
However, according to David Wisen, a former HBF pastor who participated in a financial review of HBF in 2017, the issue was theft: Harvest reportedly had inappropriately taken at least $1.8 million from HBF.
In texts I obtained through a subpoena in February 2019, MacDonald admitts to another former HBF pastor, Scott Pierre, that Harvest had misused hundreds of thousands of HBF funds.
Letter of “Unconditional Support”
On December 18, 2018—five days after I published my exposé of Harvest in World Magazine—many elders of Harvest Bible Chapel signed a letter of “unconditional support” for James MacDonald. Earlier that day, I had also published texts by Randy Williams, a former Harvest elder and chairman of the executive committee, accusing Harvest of trying “to run a cult and control the masses.”
In the video, MacDonald emphasizes that the idea for the letter did not come from either him or Duitsman, but from another elder. Duitsman says he believed the letter was “a really good idea.”
Staff Letters to the Elder Board
Prior to Harvest firing MacDonald, six scathing letters from former Harvest staff were given to the elders of Harvest. (These letters documented numerous examples of bullying and vulgarities by MacDonald, lavish spending, and a pattern of deception.
However, both MacDonald and Duitsman claim in the video that the letters had “no substance.”
As an example, Duitsman recounts that one of the letters claimed that MacDonald had once demanded the church pay to fly him home in a private jet from Haiti. (This allegation is in a letter by former HBC Coordinator of Mission and Outreach Sandy Song, which is the only letter of the six that has not been published. I have read the letter, however, and remember the story.)
MacDonald claims that the church turned down his request for the private plane because it was too expensive. Duitsman, who owns a private plane company, said he paid for the private plane to fly MacDonald home from Haiti, not Harvest.
“Hot Mic” Recording
On February 12, 2019, radio personality, Mancow Muller, aired excerpts of a vulgar “hot mic” recording of James MacDonald. That night, Harvest fired MacDonald.
In the video, Duitsman claims that the recording is “taken out of context and not true.” Yet he admits he’s never listened to the full recording.
Similarly, MacDonald asserts that the recording Muller aired was “edited to make me say something I never said.”
Responding to MacDonald’s accusation, Muller, who’s also been sued by MacDonald, said: “Are MacDonald’s pants on fire? It seems like this guy just can’t stop lying. That recording is EXACTLY the way James MacDonald talks and sounds with people that know him. I mean REALLY know him.”
Mancow added that the recording was edited “but nothing was changed. He said what he said.”
The full “hot mic” recording is available online (see below). In the recording, MacDonald jokes about planting child porn on the computer of a media executive and falsely alleges I’m having an affair with a former editor from Christianity Today.
Duitsman’s Role in MacDonald’s Firing & His Resignation
At the time of MacDonald’s firing, Duitsman was still chairman of Harvest’s elder board. However, he resigned suddenly four days later.
Duitsman said in the video that he resigned because the statement the elders wanted him to read to the congregation the following Sunday was “full of lies. It’s full of spin.”
In the video, it sounds as though the alleged “spin” concerned MacDonald and the accusations against him. Duitsman also says that he believes the elders’ public disqualification of MacDonald months later “was totally unconscionable.”
However, an email that was leaked to me before Duitsman’s resignation in 2019 tells a different story. In it, Duitsman objects to elders, like himself, being blamed for MacDonald’s misdeeds and being forced to resign.
“I saw the statement yesterday and do feel that all of us resigning at any fixed time is folly and it seems we are being punished for the acts of someone who was our spiritual leader and was misleading us in a very unqualifying way,” Duitsman wrote. “I refused to read the statement and still refuse, to mislead the congregation with spin is not proper.”
Ron Duitsman’s Feb. 16, 2019, email:
Videos of James MacDonald with Ron Duitsman:
Complete “Hot Mic” Recording: