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House of Prayer, Accused of Bilking Veterans Out of Millions, Said to Be Stonewalling Investigation

By: Steve Beynon
Apr 22, 2024
Category: News

The altar of the main church for the House of Prayer in Hinesville, Georgia, features a large cross and a reference to a verse from the gospel of Matthew. (Military.com photo by Thomas Novelly)

Federal prosecutors say a church accused of scamming veterans out of millions of dollars’ worth of benefits is stalling an investigation and should be held in contempt of court and fined.

House of Prayer, which has locations across Georgia, Texas, North Carolina and Washington state, has effectively ignored demands to produce documentation, prosecutors said in an April 4 court filing, as part of an investigation into what could be one of the largest scams targeting the military community ever.

A Military.com investigation found that the church allegedly used a complex scheme for nearly 20 years to bilk millions of dollars from veterans' military paychecks and disability pay, as well as use their GI Bill and Department of Veterans Affairs home loans to generate revenue for the church -- whose leadership lived lavish lifestyles.

The FBI raided House of Prayer locations -- all located near significant Army bases -- in June 2022. There were no arrests.

Two weeks ago, prosecutors filed a complaint in a Southern District of Georgia court, claiming the church has been stonewalling the investigation after being asked for documents on numerous occasions.

The church contends it can withhold documentation from the court on Fifth Amendment grounds, a defense federal prosecutors argue has absolutely no legal ground, court records show. An attorney representing the church did not return a request for comment ahead of publication.

Prosecutors are demanding the church provide a roster of its owners, employees and students and all money paid to the church from the VA.

Former church officials and members described to Military.com how its leadership pushed service members and veterans to give their pay and benefits. In some cases, the church pressured its members to cut off ties to their families and either move into the church or provide full-time labor without pay.

The GI Bill was at the center of the church's alleged revenue scam through a bogus bible college. The church's own director of that program told Military.com the school had no syllabus or process to graduate students in any certification.

Those classes were effectively loosely organized church meetings. Since 2013, the House of Prayer received $7 million in GI Bill payments, according to the VA. The school's eligibility to accept GI Bill money was not fully revoked until Military.com's investigation was published.

Advocates and lawmakers have long pointed to the GI Bill being easy prey for bogus schools to scam students and the government. That benefit has long been considered sacrosanct as both a top recruiting tool and largely seen on Capitol Hill as one of the federal government's most successful programs.

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By Contributor:

Steve Beynon

Steve Beynon is a reporter for Military.com based out of the Washington D.C. area whose detailed investigations have covered urgent issues impacting soldiers. An Afghanistan war veteran with over a decade of experience as a cavalry scout, Steve brings unique expertise to his coverage. In 2023, he was recognized as one of the top veterans in journalism by MVJ.

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