Headquartered in Costa Mesa, California, Trinity Broadcasting Network is the world's largest religious television network (TBN)

TBN Affiliate Takes $3.3 Million in PPP Loans, Despite Revenue Exceeding $933 Million

By Sarah Einselen

Despite having total revenues exceeding $933 million in 2019, the Texas affiliate of Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) — the world’s largest religious television network — received more than $3.3 million in federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans last year.

This is just one of several questionable financial dealings involving TBN now being highlighted by The Trinity Foundation, a religious financial watchdog group.

According to The Trinity Foundation, TBN transferred more than $860 million in assets to its Texas affiliate, Trinity Broadcasting of Texas, in 2019. The group also received another $30 million that year in donations, $24 million from selling airtime and $17 million in investment income.

However, when applying for the PPP loan, the nonprofit claimed the loan was needed “to support the ongoing operations of the Applicant.”

The Roys Report reached out to TBN for comment by email but did not receive an immediate reply.
Federal PPP loans were intended to help small businesses retain employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trinity Broadcasting of Texas qualified for the program because it had less than 500 employees.

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The TBN affiliate’s 2019 Form 990 filing showed the organization reported 443 employees. Most nonprofits are required to file Form 990 annually to report overall revenues and expenses, employees and compensation.

On its website Tuesday, Trinity Foundation questioned whether an organization with such substantial assets should qualify for a loan program meant to support small businesses.

The watchdog foundation also questioned whether an overall restructuring carried out among TBN affiliates complied with IRS rules regarding employees and independent contractors.

Trinity found nine TBN affiliates reported to the IRS they had no employees beginning in 2019, even though they’d reported having employees the previous year. Trinity Broadcasting of New York, for example, went from 35 employees in 2018 to none the following year, according to its IRS filing — but reported more than $1 million in salaries, other compensation and employee benefits in 2019, as well as more than $900,000 in occupancy and office expenses.

Trinity Foundation questioned whether some employees had been converted to independent contractors in a potential violation of IRS rules.

IRS rules state “an individual is an independent contractor if the payer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done.”

Among other findings, the watchdog noted donations had been dropping for at least a decade.

Donations to Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana, TBN’s parent organization, went from $74.7 million 10 years ago to $1.9 million in 2019. TBN’s Texas affiliate received $30.4 million in donations in 2019. Some of the shortfall was offset by the sale of seven TV frequencies back to the Federal Communications Commission in 2017, which brought in $634.3 million.

The same year the TV frequencies were sold, TBN’s Florida affiliate acquired a private jet which the watchdog organization suggested was the main driver of nearly $9 million in depreciation expenses the Florida affiliate reported in 2019.

The watchdog also found the balance of a loan made in 2012 to an unidentified TBN employee had remained static for the last few years. The balance of the $684,981 loan had stayed at $627,485 since 2017, Trinity Foundation found.

Trinity also questioned how many TBN employees were provided a housing allowance or residence owned by the nonprofit. Trinity noted that a TBN-affiliated organization, Yippee Entertainment, reported in 2019 that it provided a housing allowance or residence while reporting no employees.

The Trinity Foundation was founded in the 1970s by Ole Anthony as a means of holding Christian ministries and leaders, especially televangelists, accountable.

Barry Bowen of The Trinity Foundation contributed to this report.

Sarah Einselen is an award-winning writer and editor based in Texas.

 

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8 thoughts on “TBN Affiliate Takes $3.3 Million in PPP Loans, Despite Revenue Exceeding $933 Million”

  1. Crystal L Brooks

    I work in banking. A lot of businesses that had substantial assets were able to get these loans. I can’t really blame them for applying for it given that they were eligible. Blame the government for not putting in stricter guidelines as to what qualifies as a small business. Why wouldn’t they apply for these loans that will be totally forgiven? it’s likely that when they do apply for forgiveness that the government will take a harder look. You have to demonstrate the need and that the money was used as intended. Would they have laid off people if not for getting the PPP loans? What if they would have laid off people who then had to apply for unemployment? The goal was to retain employees and keep them from having to do that.

    1. Crystal, Your view is one I hold to and think that the culprit is the government program that allowed such stuff. But the bigger the entity the more employees they have and the more they would potentially have to lay off with the pandemic.

    2. Crystal, I must disagree with your statement that TBN should have applied for the loans simply on the basis of a good chance that they would receive it. I believe integrity should have prevailed in not requesting money they didn’t need especially since the loans are earmarked for small businesses losing revenue due to the Covid pandemic.

  2. Transferred assets ($860M) are not necessarily income, and they could be physical assets (offices, other buildings, technology, cars, planes, etc.) that aren’t liquid.

    PPP loans go through a forgiveness process, and if the rules aren’t met, the loan is only partially forgiven, or not forgiven at all:

    – Employee and compensation levels are maintained
    – The loan proceeds are spent on payroll costs and other eligible expenses; and
    – At least 60% of the proceeds are spent on payroll costs

    There may be wrongdoing here, but the context and the details missing in this report are extremely important.

  3. What some commenters seem to forget is that TBN has heavily promoted the Prosperity Gospel over the years, and has often proudly proclaimed its debt-free operations on many occasions as part of that.

    Accepting loans, regardless of whether they need to be paid back, smacks of hypocrisy, if nothing else.

  4. Kathleen L Robinson

    And then we wonder why the non believers see ‘religion’ as a money making business only….

    My concern about churches and businesses such as TBN taking the PPE money is this… does it open the door for the government to change their status tax status? more control over what they do/say? when you ‘take’ from the government there is generally strings attached.

  5. Are all of you serious. These grifters figure out every way to avoid taxes. They are worth millions and steal from taxpayers. They don’t pay into this system. I know people who have no business anymore because they didn’t qualify for loans. How can they not qualify but these greedy godless scum stick there hands in the taxpayers pocket and pull out the money. Evangelicals make me sick. They are truly the parasites of our society and weekly sheep just give them more.

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