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Church Investigations

LDS Church Calls Lawsuit Alleging Misuse of Millions in Tithes ‘Baseless’

A spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints described as “baseless” accusations of fraud outlined in a lawsuit filed by former church member James Huntsman, who is seeking to recover millions of dollars in tithes.

Huntsman claims in the suit that the tithes were used to build a mixed-use development in Salt Lake City called City Creek, not for missionary and charitable work as he believed they would be when he donated, The Washington Post reported.

Huntsman, the founder of a California film distribution company, brother of former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, and son of billionaire chemical industrialist and philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr., said he would give any recovered funds to “organizations and communities whose members have been marginalized by the Church’s teachings and doctrines, including by donating to charities supporting LGBTQ, African-American, and women’s rights,” per the Post. He is seeking more than $5 million in damages. 

In a statement to Deseret News, church spokesman Eric Hawkins denied that tithes were the source of funds for the commercial property.

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“In fact, tithing was not used on the City Creek project,” Hawkins said, noting that Gordon Hinckley, who served as president of the church from 1995 until his death in January 2008, had said at the group’s general conferences in 2003 and 2004 that funds for the project came from “commercial entities owned by the church” and “earnings of invested reserve funds.”

 “Mr. James Huntsman’s claim is baseless,” he said.

Hawkins said Huntsman resigned his church membership last year.  

The lawsuit, filed in U.S District Court in California, alleges that the church, which the suit refers to as “the LDS Corporation,” “repeatedly and publicly lied” about how it used billions of dollars in tithes and “secretly lined its own pockets by using the funds to develop a multibillion-dollar commercial real estate and insurance empire that had nothing to do with charity.” 

The suit also refers to a 2019 whistleblower complaint that alleged the church held back $100 billion in charitable donations to help church-backed businesses. The church said the money was kept as a “rainy day fund” for missions that were not entirely funded by donors. 

Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.