A religious broadcaster accused of tax evasion may have also incorporated a fake church to avoid disclosing millions in compensation, a Trinity Foundation investigation has found.
Kevin Adell, president of The Word Network, faces a federal lawsuit by the U.S. government, claiming the radio and TV broadcaster owes almost $18 million in estate and gift taxes. Authorities are seeking to take Adell’s $4.5 million home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
But an investigation by ministry watchdog Trinity Foundation found that Adell has also avoided filing annual financial disclosures, normally required of nonprofits, by registering the TV network as a church.
Although the IRS requires most charities to file a Form 990 each year, it makes an exception for organizations classified as churches or an association of churches. In recent years, numerous Christian nonprofits, like the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, have reclassified as churches and no longer have to file 990s.
Because The Word Network describes itself as a church, a Trinity Foundation investigator called Word Network in 2017 to inquire about visiting the church and was told, “Well, you know that this is not a church, right? It’s a broadcasting network with a prayer center in the back.”
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Trinity Foundation estimates that since 2008, Adell may have received more than $60 million in compensation, much of it undisclosed.
The Trinity Foundation did not hear back after requesting comment for this story through the network’s website.
In addition to operating The Word Network, Adell owns talk radio station WFDF, plus a TV station, WADL-TV, whose sale is pending. Adell also built the $125 million Adell Center, a business complex in Novi, Michigan.
Besides their $4.5 million home, Adell and his wife, Joelle, own other properties in Michigan, Florida, and Utah, collectively worth some $15 million.
Kevin Adell also owns a massive car collection with iconic vehicles from “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “Smokey and the Bandit,” among others.
Building wealth through dubious nonprofits
Not only has the Adell family registered their TV network as a church, they also incorporated a charity to serve as the original parent company for the network. But that charity seemingly did very little, if any, charitable work.
Unlike most religious TV networks, The Word Network was founded by an entrepreneurial secular broadcaster, Franklin Adell, instead of a preacher. The Adell family, owner of Detroit-area WADL-TV, incorporated the original parent organization of The Word Network, World Religious Relief, as a nonprofit in 1999.
Franklin Adell died in 2006. The estate Franklin Adell left behind is at the center of the federal government’s lawsuit against Kevin Adell, his son.
The Word Network grew rapidly to become one of the top five largest religious cable TV networks in the U.S.
The network’s parent organization reportedly had only one employee—Kevin Adell. And despite its name, World Religious Relief’s IRS filings showed the nonprofit frequently failed to provide any financial relief.
In 2015, the IRS revoked World Religious Relief’s tax-exempt status, following an audit. A tax lien was filed against World Religious Relief for $3.8 million that year, too. (A lien release was recordedin 2016.)
After the IRS began auditing World Religious Relief, Adell incorporated Church of the Word and registered to it the trade name Word Network Church. He also incorporated a for-profit company, Word Network Operating Co., in Delaware, which then registered a trademark for Word Network Church. That resulted in a nonprofit and a for-profit corporation both using the name Word Network Church.
By setting up a church, Adell’s new nonprofit could legally avoid filing a Form 990 — and his compensation from related organizations no longer had to be disclosed.
Form 990 data has not been available for World Network Church for a decade now. But previous 990s show that Adell and businesses he operated earned millions before the nonprofit’s incorporation as a church.
According to the Form 990 for its 2012 fiscal year — the last year it filed the form — World Religious Relief generated $18.2 million in revenue. It gave no grants or other financial assistance. However, $15.1 million that year went to International Broadcast Services, an independent contractor Adell operated, which reportedly did work for The Word Network.
During the final four years World Religious Relief filed Form 990s, Adell received more than $1.5 million in compensation from the nonprofit organization and more than $21 million from related companies.
Sarah Einselen contributed to this report, which was originally published by Trinity Foundation.
Barry Bowen is a staff member of Trinity Foundation, a public nonprofit based in Dallas, Texas that has been tracking religious fraud and helping victims for over 30 years.
2 thoughts on “Tax Filings Show Religious TV Exec May Have Evaded Reporting Millions”
They all will there maker.
When an organization that is clearly not a church legally reorganizes itself as a “church” to keep its finances in the dark, that is a sign that Christians should flee, both with their presence and their financial support. That would also apply to the BGEA.
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