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Why were these churches raided by the FBI?

HOPCC churches and seminaries are under investigation for fraud, allegedly targeting veterans

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The J. Edgar Hoover Building, the Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015, in Washington.

Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

Three churches were raided by the FBI Thursday, the Augusta Chronicle reports. The churches, all of which are near military bases, are affiliated with The House of Prayer Christian Church (HOPCC). The organization, a 501(c)(3), has five bible seminaries, and 12 churches (11 near military bases).

In 2020, the Veterans Education Success organization sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in D.C. asking for an investigation into the church, after interviewing 14 former members of the church and one current member.

The organization is a nonprofit organization providing free legal assistance to veterans and military-connected students in higher education. The goal of the letter was to “disapprove HOPCC for GI Bill funding.”

FBI raids

Raids occurred near Fort Gordon in Hephzibah, Georgia, near Fort Stewart in Hinesville, Georgia, and also near Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. Local law enforcement cooperated with the FBI, but no arrests could be confirmed.

Allegations against Bible seminaries

GI Bill benefits help “qualifying veterans and their family members get money to cover all or some of the costs for school or training.”

The letter outlined many allegations against the church, focusing on the Bible colleges accepting students’ GI Bill funding. Some of the most notable include:

  • “Deceiving VA and defrauding veterans of their education benefits.”
  • “(Changing) its curriculum to keep students enrolled longer.”
  • “(Lying) to VA inspectors.”

In 2018, the church received at least $708,145.53 in post 9/11 GI Bill funding and is accused of depleting students’ benefits, while never granting them a certificate of completion. One student attended for 12 years, completely depleting their GI Bill funding. They were not able to transfer credits anywhere, and their job would not count these “credits” towards promotion.

The Bible seminaries are meant to equip students to pastor and teach at HOPCC churches. They accept female students, however, the churches do not allow women to teach or preach. Many reported being required to recruit more students during class time, going to the nearby bases to accomplish this.

Allegations against the churches

In addition to the allegations against the seminaries, the House of Prayer churches allegedly:

  • “Engaged in other criminal activity and operates like a cult.”
  • “Manipulate veterans into donating their VA disability compensation to the church.”
  • “Engaged in mortgage fraud.”

Rony Denis, and the Hinesville church

Protests outside the Hinesville church location occurred in 2017, according to Coastal Carrier. Some members regarded the protesters’ claims of the church being a cult as unfounded, while those on the picket line told a different story. One former member accused the church’s pastor Rony Denis of cutting her son off from her after finding out about Denis’ alleged real estate scams.

Embittered former members of the church started a website to gather testimony about the alleged abuses they experienced. Some reports from the site claim Denis manipulated families, committed identity theft, and more. The following are testimonies from the website, and are unverified accounts of former members’ experiences working for and attending the Hinesville church:

  • Arlen Bradeen: “(Denis) uses the Bible to manipulate people, to destroy families, drain them of their money, and if anyone dare question him he will publicly destroy them.”
  • J M Rodriguez: “Ten years of working in the ‘ministry’ and all I was doing was generating over $100,000 of real estate income every month and giving it all to Denis, and on top of that they made me purchase property, and purchased property without my permission in my name, had me put it on the rental market, and give all the money that came from these properties to them. I never benefitted from all this work I was doing.”
  • Adam Boles: “He took over $40,000 from my account, had Julie divorce me and have her move in with him, had Anthony Oloans take out credit cards in my name, run the limit up, and never pay. He forced me to pay for a car that he took back from me, have the sheriffs deliver foreclosure paperwork on my house, and the list goes on and on. I had been living off credit cards to where I was over $50,000 in debt, and had to default and destroy my credit.”

Many others have submitted their stories, but none are currently verified.