TBN founders Paul and Jan Crouch, and granddaughter Brittany Koper
She may have been an heir apparent to the world’s mightiest Christian broadcasting empire, but Brittany Crouch Koper grew up in Irvine thinking she was a regular kid.
It wasn’t until grade school, when the teacher asked what everyone did over winter break, that the truth began to hit. ”I said, ‘We went to Texas to shoot a family Christmas TV special,’” Koper said, recalling the shock of her classmates. “That’s when I started to realize that not everyone was on TV for the holidays, and that my grandparents weren’t like other people’s grandparents.”
Indeed. Her grandparents are Paul and Jan Crouch, founders of the Trinity Broadcasting Network empire, which now has 16 global television networks distributed on 76 satellites, multiple foreign and domestic affiliates, and thousands of cable affiliates on every continent save Antarctica, in its own words — not to mention nearly $1 billion in net assets.
When TV sets came into the classrooms at Woodbridge High School, kids would tune to TBN for kicks. “People who didn’t know would say, ‘Is that really your grandma?’ I was halfway embarrassed and halfway proud. They accomplished so much. You have to be proud of that portion of it. They came from nothing and created this huge empire.”
And now that empire is under attack, largely due to Koper herself.
Koper, who worked for Trinity from 2007 to 2011, has accused the mighty Christian broadcaster of playing fast and loose with the ministry’s millions, and provided internal documents to back up her claims. She says it unlawfully distributed charitable assets worth more than $50 million to the company’s directors (her family members); bought a$50 million jet through “a sham loan to an alter ego corporation” for the personal use of the Crouches, as well as a $100,000 motor home that’s used as a mobile residence for her grandmother’s dogs; falsely reported “multiple residential estates” as guest homes or church parsonages to avoid income disclosures; doled out meal expenses of up to a half-million dollars per company director; paid personal chauffeurs with Trinity funds disguised as medical payments; and engaged in “multiple cover-ups of sexual and criminal scandals.”
She has provided documentation to law enforcement and the Internal Revenue Service, and said she is cooperating with their inquiries (though neither the IRS nor the Orange County District Attorney’s office will comment).
If the things Koper says are true, laws have been broken, and family members could go to prison. How does one transform from insider to accuser?
“I don’t want to sound nuts,” said Koper, 27, during a lunch break from her HR job in New York. “But God uses people to different ends, and he’s using me to expose this. He doesn’t want the money-changers in his house anymore. God is using me to clean house and get TBN into the hands of someone who will make sure it’s run properly.” She sighed with resignation. “Fabulous. OK. I can handle it. I’m strong. I’m educated. God has provided for us this whole way, I expect he will continue to provide for us.”
Trinity’s take on her journey from insider to accuser is very different.
“…I can only say that under no circumstance is her ‘decision’ an effort ‘to do the right thing,’ ” said Colby May, an attorney for Trinity, by email. “Instead, as I have explained previously, she and her husband, Michael Koper, are attempting nothing more than a diversionary tactic from their own embezzlement, fraudulent actions, and deceit.”
That, Koper’s attorney said, is nonsense. Koper and her husband admit to taking company loans for a house and condo, but say those loans were approved by higher-ups with clear repayment schedules.
“Brittany objects to the free TBN parsonages provided to her uncle and grandparents. She refuses her own and instead takes out a loan for her humble house like the rest of us, and then TBN has the hypocritical audacity to call Brittany’s loan the embezzlement? Brittany’s loan is the precise legal opposite of embezzlement, and yet all you hear Colby May singing is ‘I know you are, but what am I’ whenever TBN gets caught at something,” said Tymothy MacLeod, Koper’s attorney, by email.
More on that back-and-forth soon.
GRANDMA, A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND
Jan Crouch and Brittany Koper
When Koper was young, Trinity’s glitz and glamour happened at a distance. Her dad, Paul Crouch Jr., ran his own Christian production company, separate from TBN. Her mom stayed at home with the three kids. They lived in an upper-middle class Irvine community, Koper played softball at Woodbridge High, and they mostly saw their grandparents around birthdays and holidays. “I had a beautiful childhood,” she said.
In high school, she and her grandmother grew very close. “She was every girl’s dream come true,” Koper said. “She has a funny sense of humor — really different from what you see on TV. We’d talk about boys, gossip, get magazines and look through at the celebrities. It was a teenage-girl type of relationship. She’s the one who encouraged me to dye my hair blonde, wear blue contacts and go on a diet. When she lived in the mansion in Newport Beach, I’d go over and she’d do my make up and put her wigs on me. We’d go to movies together, she’d take me on shopping sprees for clothes, and when I went away to college, I was very homesick. She’s the first person I would call to talk to.”
Those shopping sprees — and birthday extravaganzas that cost thousands of dollars — were always paid on the TBN credit card, Koper said. She was a teenager then. She didn’t think anything of it.
Koper went to college at St. John’s, a Catholic university in New York, on a softball scholarship. That’s where she met her husband Michael. They married in 2007, and moved back to California. Her husband had a scholarship to Whittier Law School, and she began work on her MBA at Concordia University in Irvine. She was 22.
RETURN TO GOLDEN STATE
“When we first came to California, I said, no way am I working at TBN,” she said. “But I talked to my dad, and he said Ruth (her great aunt, who was approaching 80) could use help in personnel department. So, I thought, OK, I’ll work there through grad school.”
And since her husband Michael was in law school, he went to work for John Casoria, TBN’s in-house counsel, in the legal department.
“That’s when the reality of everything — this illusion that had been created for me about my family and what they did — really became apparent,” she said. “Before then, I really wasn’t close enough to what went on on a daily basis to know. It wasn’t until I got my education that I said, ‘Wait, I’m pretty sure we’re not supposed to be doing this.’ ”
At first, she just tried to understand what was going on. Every dollar TBN spent was supposed to further its ministry purpose — to spread the gospel.
Those five bottles of expensive wine, were those a ministry expense? Guess you could say that’s communion wine, she reasoned.
Those expensive dinners with family members charged to TBN credit cards? “That’s a business dinner. That’s what their own general counsel is saying. ‘John (Casoria) says it’s OK.’ You rationalize things in your head: I guess that could be a ministry expense if you throw the word ‘church’ in a couple of times. I was searching for ways to make these things ministry expenses.”
Matthew and Laurie Crouch/TBN Newswire
It was the expenses charged to Trinity by her Uncle Matthew Crouch — her dad’s younger brother — that were the last straw. “His lifestyle makes my grandparents’ lifestyle look tame,” she said. “You can’t even compare. My grandfather has a luxury car — but Matt had a new luxury car every other week, and his wife would have one, too. TBN remodeled an entire TBN-owned house for them, so they could have a closet for their designer clothes. That’s where it was, all right, I look the other way on other stuff that’s in the gray area, but you have to be kidding me.”
TBN, a nonprofit, had sent more than $50 million to Matthew Crouch’s for-profit film company over the course of a decade, she said.
By 2010 and 2011, she had her masters degree and her husband has his law degree, “and we more or less learned what things should look like,” she said. She started asking a lot of questions of TBN’s auditors and lawyers, “really hoping they would stand up with me.”
That’s not quite how it turned out.
In August, After Koper and her husband were appointed treasurer and secretary, they wrote a memo detailing their concerns to Paul Crouch Sr. By October, they had been fired. And every immediate family member has gone down with them, including Koper’s father, Paul Crouch Jr., and her little sister, Carra. She and her husband returned the loans and property they had through Trinity, but Trinity turned everything back on them and sued them in retaliation for blowing the whistle, Koper and her attorney maintain.
As the web of suits and counter-suits spiral, the Kopers moved back to New York for a fresh start. They now live in her in-laws’ basement.
“For me to be in the situation I’m in currently, it’s surreal,” she said. “It hasn’t really sunk in.”
Her grandmother hasn’t spoken to her since August. Repeated calls to Jan Crouch go unanswered. “I was heartbroken,” she said. “It’s like I’m dead to them. ”
Thanksgiving was particularly hard: Jan Crouch’s special turkey stuffing is a holiday staple, and if Koper wasn’t actually with her grandmother, they’d be on the phone, with Jan Crouch walking her through the recipe so Koper could make it herself.
Not this year. Koper spent much of the holiday weeping, and it was the same on Christmas. ” If we didn’t spend it together, we’d send presents and call and say, ‘Jesus loves you.’ This year, she got everyone in my family a gift except for me. I tried to reach her on Christmas day — that was the last time I tried to reach out to her. I sent her a text that said, ‘Grandmom, I love you so much no matter what. Thank you so much for teaching me about Jesus.’ I never heard back.”
Koper cried as she recounted this part of the story. ”For her to cut me out of her life, it’s hard,” she says. “If I saw her tomorrow I’d run up to her and say ‘I love you and miss you.’ But I forgive her. I’ve forgiven everyone in my family. I realize they’re human, afraid of what I have to say. And they should be. So many things they’ve done are unconscionable , if not illegal.”
Koper has a job working in the human resources department of a medium-sized company in New York, and her husband’s family has been terrifically supportive. On days she can’t get out of bed, her husband encourages her; and on days when he can’t get out of bed, she returns the favor, she said. When she was on the couch crying over the holidays, her in-laws were the first to come over and say “Brittany, we love you, no matter what.” “That’s really what family is about, and it’s unfortunate that my family has forgotten that,” she said, her voice cracking.
Her friends and in-laws joke that if they’re in a public place together, no one wants to stand next to her. She checks her brakes before she drives anywhere. She says a private detective is following her around and rifling through the trash. “He’s actually a pretty nice guy — he’s just doing his job,” she said. “I told him, ‘If my grandmother wants to know where I am, all she has to do is call me and I’ll tell her.’ ”
Koper wants people who have been wronged by TBN to have the strength to come forward and set things right. If she can provide any testimony to support their claims, she will. “So many people have been too scared to come forward,” she said. “I want to encourage them to come forward. If I have a message, it’s, ‘If you feel like you’ve been wronged, go get an attorney, because there’s someone willing to tell the truth.’ I’m not going to be intimidated and frightened into keeping quiet. Ever,” she said.
“I love TBN. It has such potential to be an amazing outlet for people. I’m a Christian, and my faith is stronger now than when I was there. I strongly believe in TBN’s mission. If it were under the right leadership, it would be doing amazing things for the world. This prosperity gospel, it just makes me sick — but I don’t know. That’s a theological discussion and I’m not a theologian.”
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