Watchdog: Televangelist Paid Millions Amid ‘Extravagant Culture’

By Sarah Einselen
David Cerullo
David Cerullo. (Source: YouTube screengrab)

Forty-one million dollars.

That’s how much televangelist and media executive David Cerullo was compensated over a 12-year span, according to The Trinity Foundation, a ministry watchdog group. In 2019 alone, Cerullo made more than $7 million, Trinity says. But the watchdog added that Cerullo’s total compensation is difficult to compile because of his multiple streams of income.

Cerullo is president and CEO of The Inspirational Network Inc., which does business as Inspiration Ministries. Over the course of 12 years ending in 2019, he received more than $41 million in base salary, bonuses and other compensation, Trinity Foundation found.

The watchdog analyzed Inspiration Ministries’ 2019 IRS Form 990 — the financial disclosure many nonprofits must file. Trinity Foundation found Cerullo was paid a total of $7.3 million that year. Nearly $1.6 million of that was for his 13-hour-a-week duties with Inspiration Ministries. Another $5.7 million more was for work with related organizations, including the for-profit cable TV network INSP.

Together, the millions Cerullo is compensated while preaching the prosperity gospel, put him at the top of MinistryWatch’s most recent list of highly paid ministry executives. (MinistryWatch noted its list isn’t comprehensive, in part because organizations that call themselves churches aren’t required to file Form 990s.)

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“The extravagant culture that (Jim) Bakker created lives on with different management and a different name,” Trinity Foundation stated in its report. “This culture will continue as long as donors financially support it.”

Ronn Torossian, spokesman for Inspiration Ministries, said Trinity Foundation’s characterization of Cerullo’s pay was “completely inaccurate.” He said Cerullo’s pay as head of the INSP cable network should be compared with that of other for-profit network CEOs rather than ministry executives.

By the Numbers

Inspiration Ministries was formed when Cerullo’s father, Morris Cerullo, bought the assets of televangelist Jim Bakker’s bankrupt TV network in 1990. At the time, Bakker’s PTL Network had folded due to financial and sexual scandal and Bakker was headed to prison for embezzlement. (Bakker has since bought his old PTL trademark and re-launched the PTL Television Network.)

Morris Cerullo Inspiration Ministries
The late televangelist, Morris Cerullo

When Morris Cerullo became owner of Inspiration Ministries, David Cerullo became president and CEO.

Morris Cerullo also faced accusations of financial mismanagement. He was indicted in the mid-2000s on charges he failed to report more than half a million dollars in income over three years. Those charges were dismissed because of prosecutorial misconduct during the indictment.

In the years since, Inspiration Ministries has grown to include several subsidiaries. INSP, the for-profit cable network, is one of them. INSP carries original and classic Western programming like “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza.”

And it draws a huge viewership. In May this year, INSP was ranked in the top 10 by total viewers among cable networks, according to Nielsen.

The majority of Cerullo’s compensation doesn’t come from the nonprofit arm of Inspiration, but instead from its numerous related organizations, the Form 990 shows.

Almost 80% of the roughly $7.3 million Cerullo was paid in 2019 came from related organizations like INSP, the for-profit Western cable network, according to the Form 990 filing. And as of 2020, about 95% of Cerullo’s pay comes from INSP alone, Torossian claimed. However, Torossian didn’t say whether Cerullo’s pay from INSP or Inspiration Ministries had changed from 2019 to 2020 but simply said “we shifted a lot in 2020.”

Nonprofit industry experts say CEO salary is often correlated with the size of the organization itself. In other words, the bigger the organization or the more funds it raises, the higher the CEO’s salary is.

Inspiration Ministries’ Form 990 shows it reported about $41 million in revenues for 2019 and paid Cerullo almost $1.6 million.

In contrast, Trinity Broadcasting Network reported almost twice as much revenue that same year. But its president, Matt Crouch, earned $866,275, according to its Form 990— a little over half of Cerullo’s nonprofit salary.

Torossian said Trinity Foundation should’ve considered Cerullo’s work with INSP. “You have to compare his income to the income of another TV network executive instead of comparing it to a nonprofit,” he said.

He said comparing Cerullo’s pay with that of executives at for-profit TV networks like Discovery Channel — ranked in the top 10 in the Nielsen ratings in May — “would be a more fair, accurate apples-to-apples comparison.”

Arriving at Those Numbers

As many nonprofits do, Inspiration Ministries says it hired a consultant to survey executive salaries. Torossian added that an independent committee compares Cerullo’s salary with that of executives at similar organizations like TV networks, media companies, faith-based ministries and churches. The network’s board then uses the accumulated information to determine Cerullo’s compensation.

“David Cerullo’s compensation is and always has been established by a fully independent executive compensation committee,” Torossian said in an emailed statement, “. . . based on the reports and recommendations of an independent CPA firm and a law firm, both of whom specialize in non-profit law and accounting.”

But Trinity Foundation questioned whether the survey accounted for Cerullo’s part-time status with the nonprofit network or whether his pay was being compared to other full-time salaries. (AsThe Roys Report noted earlier this year, other Christian media ministries, like John MacArthur’s Grace to You, pay their executives full-time salaries for part-time work.)

In addition, the watchdog questioned whether Inspiration Ministries’ board, which approves Cerullo’s compensation, had enough independent members.

David and Barbara Cerullo.
David and Barbara Cerullo.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, governing boards of nonprofits “should not be dominated by employees or others who are not, by their very nature, independent individuals because of family or business relationships.”

Not only does David Cerullo sit on his seven-person board, but so does his wife and his son.

Another board member, Ramon Ardizzone, is the father of Dale Ardizzone—Inspiration’s general counsel and corporate secretary. Dale Ardizzone was paid more than $2.4 million in total compensation from Inspiration’s related organizations in 2019.

The remaining three directors — Albert Denson, Larry Gerbrandt, and Doug Preudhomme — were paid $20,000 each by the ministry in 2019.

According to the National Council on Nonprofits, nonprofits normally do not compensate board members for their services, but they may pay “reasonable compensation” for service provided by board members. Board members receiving compensation, however, could lose immunity in lawsuits, the council warns.

Others Cerullos Profiting from Inspiration Ministries

Two of Cerullo’s close family members have also earned millions from Inspiration Ministries since 2008.

Barbara Cerullo, wife of David Cerullo, received more than $3.6 million during the 12-year period ending in 2019. She’s listed as a board member and executive vice president of employee engagement and events.

Benjamin Cerullo, the televangelist’s son, is also executive vice president of ministry outreach at Inspiration Ministries. He’s also chief operations officer of CrossRidge, one of Inspiration Ministries’ related organizations. Benjamin Cerullo earned more than $3.4 million during the 12-year timeframe, according to Trinity Foundation.

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10 thoughts on “Watchdog: Televangelist Paid Millions Amid ‘Extravagant Culture’”

  1. I know some preacher men
    Men with some business plans
    And I think this must be said
    They’re making millions
    Selling Jesus
    They take but they never give
    And all of their possessions
    Will all go down in flames
    When they stand before a God
    Who never knew their names

    All the wolves will burn in hell
    All the wolves will burn in hell
    I’m no theologian
    But I know enough to tell
    All the wolves will burn in hell

  2. Evangelical-Industrial Grift – in full swing!!!

    Trump had great mentors – and now has moved into full swing – grifting off “the Big Lie” – and gullible religious lemmings – so destitute of their own walk with God in Christ – and desperate for someone who seems to have something real….

    The reality of course is that grifters like Cerrulo, Baker, Trinity, SBC et al have and are NOTHING but chaff – but simply are playing “the confidence” game…using the best product in the human history – Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to by God….

    What a pathetic scene by and large – albeit nothing new – evangelicalism – simply warmed over vaticanism- which held the world hostage for CENTURIES with “the Big Scam”.

    1. Frances Christenson

      Was Trump in the story? I missed that connection. Not sure what SBC have in common with THIS story either. I guess all evangelicals look alike at this point.

      All these folks are hardly new to this thing. Lots have been written about them over the years. I really find it hard to believe that Christians that are school teachers, police and small business owners have made all these folks filthly rich. Where exactly are all of them getting these millions? If we add up the top ten Christian earners that is a whole lot of money that they got from middle class America. Too bad we can’t find out the donor list. Many of them earn tons of $$$ from book deals which is scam in my opinioin.

  3. Brian Patrick

    Sad, but far from surprising. These things need to be exposed for sure, but are they necessarily “outrages”? These “preachers” aren’t Biblical pastors or teachers but rather celebrity entertainers, actors just the same as Michael B. Jordan or Margot Robbie or Christian Bale. People who donate to them are, presumably, getting their money’s worth or else they would not continue to do so. How is this different from people flocking to the latest summer action blockbuster and contributing to their favorite star’s retirement account?

    1. Interesting perspective….

      HOWEVER, using the name of Jesus of Nazareth as your schtick…???? NOT OK!!

  4. While I personally find alot of Christian programming to be useful and edifying, I have given very little $$ to TV ministries because of these exhorbitant salaries. Unlike the CEO’s of these networks, I worked very hard over my entire life-span in order to obtain the little $$ that I have. These people have never held a REAL job and they have no idea what real work is like.

  5. Lindsey Calverley

    These guys spend more time in litigation than any real estate executive that I’ve worked with! Whatever happened to living a quiet life at peace with the people around you. Check out this crazy court case with Morris Cerullo. https://casetext.com/case/compass-bank-an-ala-banking-corp-v-morris-cerullo-world-evangelism-corp These guys are pretty shiesty business-people at best. They definitely aren’t ministers or charitable organizations. It makes me sad that they manipulate people into giving them money. It is also pretty infuriating that they use their 1st amendment protections to keep their power and money. And their status as a religious institution as a front for their questionable business operations. They get non-profit status and 1st Amendment preference in cases, such as the one they faced in 2005. At some point, you have to look at the first amendment as a way to protect from religious oppression, and see how it is having an adverse effect in the case of these large evangelical organizations. I don’t think a lawyer has been able to “crack the code” yet.

  6. Actually, looks like a non-story. Surely space could be better used to out ministries under investigation or folks on trial for fraud.

    I knew a man who was an executive with Morris Cerullo’s (the father) Evangelistic Association.. He left very saddened by the corrupt nepotism and left. Relatives were paid big salaries, idealistic worker bees–not so much. But nearly all these television ministries do this. Pick any one. They all employ an army of family members and relatives. Lawyers stand at the ready to help these folks take advantage of every tax loophole and deferred tax investment under the sun. Eventually, the business model and institutionalization consume the gospel and the associations wither away.

    However, in this case, as much as I have little regard for David Cerullo as an evangelist, his presidency of another secular Cable TV network, the Western Channel, seems to be the main source of his current wealth. This would be legitimate compensation made outside the ministry and certainly is not putting charitable gifts in his pocket. We have Christian movie producers and other Christian professionals who make large salaries as well. It’s just the marketplace. Offering a book, movie, music, etc. and charging for it is basic business and not corrupt or untoward. While some, like Michael Brown who contributes all theological book royalties to ministry ought to be commended,. I don’t begrudge Kevin Sorbo for the millions he’s made producing Christian themed movies. He took a big risk in the entertainment marketplace. Everyone said it would be a bomb. He could have lost money. Again, he was not taking money directed toward charitable giving.

    There will be some Christians who are rich. We have examples like Joseph of Arimathea in the New Testament. I don’t resent some Christians becoming rich. I do think rich Christians should be super generous in their own charitable giving, but it is God who will judge them. I only have a problem with ministries that enrich themselves by manipulating well intentioned Christian donors, who take money intended to promote the gospel, help the poor, etc., and detour that money into gold-plate housing and office spaces, private jets, huge relative housing allowances, deferred tax investments to hide high salaries, and cap it off with obscene yearly salaries for themselves, relatives, and friends.

  7. Many of these media evangelism groups are very high profit. They tell the target audience to give hard earned money to advance the Kingdom. Behind the scenes, the group is keeping most of the money for themselves. They are always asking for money because they want more for themselves, not the Kingdom.

  8. So the Lutherans voting in new leader that’s a woman: bad. Evangelical industrial complex with the life styles not even movie and rocks can enjoy including adultery: good. Got it all you godly people. When are you members of these godless mega churches going to hang your heads in shame.

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