North Carolina televangelist Todd Coontz – author of numerous books on faith and finances – has been indicted on charges of tax fraud spanning more than a decade.
"As a minister, Coontz preached about receiving and managing wealth, yet he failed to keep his own finances in order," Jill Westmoreland Rose, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, said as she announced the charges. "Coontz will now receive a first-hand lesson in 'rendering unto Caesar' that which is due."
The charges include three counts of failure to pay tax, each carrying a maximum federal prison term of one year, and four counts of aiding and assisting in filing false tax returns, each carrying a maximum term of three years.
Coontz, 50, is described on his website as a "pastor, evangelist, television host, author, humanitarian, philanthropist, businessman." He currently lives in Florida and the books he's written include Breaking the Spirit Debt and Please Don't Repo My Car.
The televangelist "promised financial miracles for people who sent money to his ministry," according to Channel 9 WSOCTV of Charlotte, N.C. The news station recounts some examples of his claims:
" 'You need to plant the $273 recovery seed. I'm only going to give you two to three minutes to respond,' Coontz once told his viewers.
"Coontz posted videos on Twitter as recently as Wednesday, promising financial blessings to the faithful.
" 'Suddenly miracles are happening. I want to work with your faith for quick things, swift things,' Coontz said in the video."
Coontz's attorney Mark Foster said in a statement to WSOCTV that Coontz "unequivocally asserts his innocence of these charges." He added: "Todd Coontz has always endeavored to follow the law and to be a good citizen, father and minister. He trusted others to manage his finances and taxes for him and was shocked to find out he was under criminal investigation by the IRS."
The charges allege that Coontz filed delinquent federal income tax returns from 2000-2014, with federal tax liabilities amounting to more than $326,000.
He also allegedly purchased the following vehicles through his corporations or ministry: "a 2011 BMW, a 2011 Regal 2500 boat, a 2012 BMW convertible, a 2011 Lexus, a 2011 Land Rover, a 2006 Ferrari, a 2012 Maserati, a 2013 BMW, a 2013 Land Rover, and a 2012 Ferrari."
"All payments associated with these vehicles were treated as business expenses on corporate and ministry accounting records even though COONTZ's family members drove some of the vehicles and no records were kept about the supposed business use of the vehicles," the indictment states.
It adds that his ministry purchased a $1.5 million condominium. His corporations also deducted as business expenses more than $200,000 for clothing purchases and tens of thousands of dollars for meals and entertainment.
Additionally, Coontz allegedly perpetrated a check-cashing scheme by filing false tax returns from 2010-13. Ministries would often pay Coontz for traveling to speak to them. According to the indictment, he "hid income from the IRS by claiming the travel as a business expense while simultaneously receiving travel reimbursement that he kept as personal income."
That includes billing the churches for first-class airfare that he did not actually purchase, the indictment alleges.
In other cases, he would allegedly cash checks he received for speeches and book sales, so that they did not appear on his accounting records.
Coontz has been ordered to appear at the U.S. District Court in Charlotte.