On June 23, the FBI served concurrent search warrants on at least six House of Prayer Christian churches in Fayetteville, Georgia, Washington, Texas and California.
The FBI declined to say whether the searches were related or if they related to a particular case. The church, known as the HOPCC along with 11 churches near US military installations, has a reputation for robbing veterans of their education and disability benefits and operating as a cult, according to a letter sent to the Veterans Administration, formerly known as the Veterans Administration, by Veterans Education Success, a nonprofit organization that oversees the use of GI Bill benefits.
Related News: FBI raids Georgia churches near military bases, sources say church targeted soldiers
Here are three things you should know about the band and its ties to Fayetteville:
Where they are
Records from the North Carolina Secretary of State indicate that the Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based group registered its House of Prayer church on Hodge Street in Fayetteville in 2013. The record says the church’s main office is located in Hinesville, Georgia – one of the properties raided by the FBI. According to Cumberland County property records, House of Prayer Christian Churches of America owns four parcels adjacent to Bonnie Doone on Hodge Street as well as two adjacent properties on nearby Grooms Street. All six were purchased in 2016.
The FBI served a search warrant at the church at 5204 Hodge St. on June 23, an FBI spokesperson confirmed. But what was sought by the warrant and what, if any items were seized, was not made public?
Related: House of prayer among five churches raided by FBI near military bases, no arrests made
What theyre doing
The church operates Bible seminaries off military bases in Hinesville, Georgia; Augusta, Georgia; Tacoma, Washington; Killeen, Texas; Fayetteville, North Carolina; and, San Diego, California, according to incorporation documents from the Secretary of State’s offices for those states. The local church reportedly opened the House of Prayer Christian Church Day School here in 2015, teaching kindergarten to grade 12. They also advertise a Teenage Missionaries group and a children’s choir.
In 2020, Veterans Education Success wrote a letter to the Veterans Administration, asking that abuse of the GI Bill program by House of Prayer Christian Church Bible Seminaries be investigated. According to its website, Veterans Education Success works to ensure success for military-related students using the GI Bill and other federal educational benefits, and to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse.
Among dozens of allegations in the 11-page letter dated August 2020, former church members reportedly told Veterans Education Success that House of Prayer:
• Misleads the VA during inspections and targets veterans in order to access GI Bill funding, VA Disability Compensation, and VA home loans.
• lies to VA inspectors about students’ time in class, telling inspectors that students were in class while recruiting new members or doing other work for the church; lied about the percentage of veteran students attending classes to give the impression that more civilians were attending; lied about the number of students participating in the only program approved for GI Bill funding, stating that all students from different states participated in this approved program.
• Charges significantly higher tuition to VA students. “Civilians received ‘internal grants’ to reduce the price or (were) reimbursed later if they paid full price. In contrast, veteran students were charged full price tuition.” Students using the GI Bill paid $500 to $900 per month.
• Misleads the AV about teachers’ college degrees and salaries, when teachers only had certificates and were not paid.
• forces students, who were supposed to be in class, to recruit new members, telling them to specifically target young soldiers and single military spouses with young children.
• change class names or re-teach materials to keep students enrolled longer. “For example, HOPCC had a class called ‘The Books of Moses.’ HOPCC divided the course into five separate classes, each covering one of the five books,” the letter said. “Students who took the original ‘Books of Moses’ course were required to take all five separate courses even though they covered the same material. This allowed HOPCC to continue to collect tuition money.”
• students exhaust their study allowances and never receive a certificate of completion. One student attended classes for 10 years in three different states, another for 12 years in Georgia. Both exhausted their benefits and never received a certificate. The letter goes on to state, “It is highly unlikely that receiving a certificate from the HOPCC Bible Seminaries will benefit students in any way… A certificate from the HOPCC would only permit graduates to preach or teach in churches and HOPCC Bible Seminars.” The letter also alleges that women were prohibited from preaching or teaching in the church even if they used their benefits to attend classes. Credits are also not transferable to other schools.
• Manipulates veterans to donate their VA disability award to the church and coaches them on how to lie to achieve a 100% disability rating. HOPCC allegedly told members that other people were “sinners” and that their lies to the VA were “in line with God.” Veterans were often required to make various payments such as “Weekly Deals”, “Monthly Deals”, “Electricity Bill Deals” and “Soul Winning Deals”. The letter states: “Many veterans were even said to have been told that ‘God has blessed you [with disability compensation] so you can give it your time and not worry about having a regular job.”
• engages in mortgage fraud by taking out loans in the name of parishioners and falsifying signatures with the help of in-house notaries. The ability to perpetrate such fraud was due to the church having access to students’ social security numbers and other personal information.
Military and crime writer FT Norton can be contacted at [email protected]
The Fayetteville Observer app is free to download.