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John Ankerberg’s Private Jet Usage Questioned By Whistleblower

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Ankerberg Theological Research Institute (The Institute) is one of the largest apologetics ministries in the nation. In 2021, it had revenue of more than $9 million, most of it in donations to its popular television program “The John Ankerberg Show.”

Like all tax-exempt organizations, The Institute is required to disclose if it has used “charter aircraft” for executives and “travel for companions” on its Schedule J of the Form 990.

On its Form 990 for the calendar year 2021, it did not check the box that would have indicated that it used charter aircraft.

Andrew Jaeger was Director of Donor Relations for The Institute from September 2019 until November 2022.  Jaeger said that between March and November of 2021, Ankerberg’s organization used the charter service NetJets to make at least nine flights for ministry and personal purposes. Jaeger said he was on at least a half-dozen of these trips himself.

Jaeger disclosed this information in a Whistleblower Complaint shared with The Institute in September of 2022. Jaeger estimated in the complaint that over an 18-month period beginning in late 2020, “the cost of these flights is approaching $1,000,000…. This is a substantive and material expense that should be disclosed to major donors.”

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James Catanzaro, an attorney for The Institute, called Jaeger’s $1 million estimate of the amount of money spent on air travel “patently false.” But he did not say how much the ministry spent, and he did not deny that the ministry used the aircraft.

In fact, Darlene Ankerberg, John Ankerberg’s wife and the CEO/Comptroller of the organization, did acknowledge that the ministry uses charters in some cases.  She wrote in an email to MinistryWatch:

We do not own a plane but the plane we sometimes use is paid for by a donor. It is used because of the many challenges in reaching ministry business destinations with commercial travel options.  Most importantly we have a board policy that governs and approves the use of the airplane. All ministry travel overseas is done commercially.

According to the The Institute’s Form 990, the board consists of eight people. Three of them are members of the Ankerberg family: John, Darlene, and Michelle. MinistryWatch asked for a copy of the “board policy that governs and approves the use of the airplane.” The Institute has so far not provided a copy.

Jaeger says the relationship with NetJets began in late 2020. He said he became increasingly concerned about the use of the jets, and in September of last year filed the Whistleblower Complaint, copies of which Jaeger shared with MinistryWatch and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA).

Jaeger has requested that the ECFA conduct a review of The Institute’s compliance with ECFA standards. Jake Lapp is the vice president of member accountability for the ECFA. He confirmed to MinistryWatch via email that “there is a compliance review in process.”

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Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.