The Internal Revenue Service has launched a payroll tax investigation into a church affiliated with televangelist Robert Tilton, according to a petition filed on behalf of the church in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma.
The petition, filed Monday by Tilton’s Word of Faith World Outreach Center Church Inc., seeks to block a summons issued by the IRS for records held at a Tulsa bank.
“Since the issuance of the summons, the church has fully paid and satisfied all Form 941 taxes (including penalties and interest) for the tax periods in controversy,” the church states as justification for its request to quash the summons.
Included in the court filing are papers that indicate the church owed nearly $300,000 in payroll taxes to the IRS for 2014 and 2015.
The summons was issued June 20 to People’s Bank in Tulsa, according to the petition.
The summons requests the bank to produce bank signature cards, bank statements, canceled checks, loan applications and agreements and other corporate documents related to the church for the period from April 1, 2014, to March 31, 2016, the petition states.
The petition indicates the church is a nonprofit, charitable organization incorporated in Nevada and doing business in Oklahoma that is also known as Christ the Good Shepherd Worldwide Church Inc.
Barbara J. Miller is listed as the secretary and treasurer of the nonprofit, which lists a post office box in Claremore, according to the petition.
“Because the information sought by the IRS summons is no longer relevant to the IRS’s investigation to collect delinquent taxes and no longer serves a legitimate purpose in furtherance of an IRS investigation concerning taxes in controversy, the court should quash the summons and direct People’s Bank not to provide the requested documents to the IRS,” states the petition, filed by Tulsa-based attorney Charles Harrison on behalf of the church.
The petition includes copies of cashier’s checks dated July 8 and totaling nearly $300,000 made payable to the U.S. Treasury for payroll taxes for 2014 and 2015.
Harrison declined to comment on the lawsuit. He referred comment to Ves Som, with the Asiatico Law firm, which lists an address in Plano, Texas. Som could not be reached for comment. A message with another number affiliated with the church was not returned.
Tilton rose to fame as a Dallas-based televangelist in the 1980s.
His ministry collapsed following a 1991 report by ABC’s “PrimeTime Live” that Tilton’s Word of Faith World Outreach Center Church was making $80 million a year from followers through its direct mail campaign, according to Tulsa World archives. At the time, Tilton’s television show, “Success N Life,” was broadcast by 200 stations nationwide and his church claimed 10,000 members.
“PrimeTime Live” suggested Tilton’s ministry engaged in mail fraud and showed contributors’ letters, many of them requests for help, in a trash dumpster outside a Tulsa bank. A Tulsa recycler said he also found thousands of prayer requests for Tilton’s ministry among the waste sent to him by a Tulsa company that handled Tilton’s mail. The ministry denied that the bank that handled the mail disposed any of the correspondence in the trash.
The program sparked an investigation by the Texas attorney general and numerous lawsuits. Stations canceled Tilton’s television program until it eventually went off the air.
Tilton has since relocated to Florida, according to various media reports.
Tilton still maintains a digital presence. The website roberttiltonlive.com indicates that live services are held the first Saturday of each month at a hotel in Culver City, California.
Archived videotaped messages can also be found on the website.
On the videos, Tilton solicits donations via Paypal and lists a Tulsa post office box for correspondence.
In a June 20-dated video, Tilton encourages his listeners to “tell your friends that Robert Tilton is alive and well and he is prophesying as a New Testament prophet.”
In the June 28 video, which had over 6,000 views, Tilton requests donations ranging from $1,000 to $25.
“Our ministry has some needs, some bills,” Tilton said, in his June 28 message.