A court in the United States has ruled in favour of Nigerian Pentecostal church, Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries (MFM), in a property and monetary dispute with former members of its American arm.
In an action filed in September 2017 before the Circuit Court for Princes County in Maryland, USA, (Case No. CAL 616-26532) by MFMM International, Lagos, and MFMM Nevada, the church had sought declaratory judgment and damages against one Pastor Lawrence Adetunji, his wife, Ronke, and 11 other former members of the church in Bowie, Maryland. The filing of the suit was exclusively reported by SaharaReporters last year.
Equally joined as defendants in the suit was Christ the Truth Ministries (CTM), founded by the former members to succeed the Bowie branch of MFMM.
The main subject of the dispute were two properties acquired by MFM in 2001 and 2004, both are located at 5503 and 5506 Church Road, Bowie. Equally in contention was the money used in building the MFMM church in Bowie.
The parent church had claimed that the purchase of the property housing the church was made exclusively through various contributions by MFM members in Bowie. It added that the Bowie branch got no assistance from its headquarters or General Overseer, Dr. DK Olukoya, or the headquarters of the church at the time it purchased the properties.
MFM also claimed that at the time Pastor Adetunji and the other defendants quit the church in anger, they were legally required to hand over its properties and funds to it, which they did not. Pastor Adetunji and his co-defendants maintained that MFMM had no legal claim over the properties because it did not contribute any money towards their purchase even when they sought a loan from the parent church. Pastor Adetunji and other former members maintained that there was no valid legal trust created for the benefit of the parent church. The former members said they quit the church and discontinued relationship with its leadership, following discovery of alleged fraudulent activities by MFM Lagos.
Specifically, the respondents said MFMM International had a fondness for deliberately making false claims to the US Customs as a way of evading duties and tax on books imported from Nigeria. The practice, they further alleged, had gone on for many years, robbing the US government of revenue.
The church's trick, as stated the respondents, was to ship copies of ‘70 Days Prayer and Fasting’ and ‘Pray Your Way into the Current Year’ to branches in the US by claiming they were donations meant for members of the church in the US. But once the books made their way into the US, claimed the respondents, the church emailed its pastors, directing them on the prices to sell the books to members after which the pastors were required to remit the proceeds to MFM International.
In their amended answer and counter-claim, the defendants said in 2013, the church began shipping its books directly to the Customs in Baltimore, accompanied by cover letters denoting them as donations. This, they said, they did not discover until 2015.
On discovery and having no power to compel the church to abandon its alleged illegal activities, the defendants said they opted to quit the church so as not to unknowingly participate in illegality.
In its ruling, the court held that Pastor Adetunji and other former members converted MFM's property to their own personal use without authority from the church. It equally held that the defendants, as trustees of the church, had acted in a manner by illegally changing the articles on which their status rested.
The court held that Pastor Adetunji did not notify the church of his resignation before setting up Christ the Truth Ministries with the other members. The court established that arms of MFM do not operate independently but do so under the control of the parent church.
It further ruled that Pastor Adetunji attended training with MFMM in Nigeria and used the church's logo, indicating affiliation with the church. The court ordered that a full audit of assets be carried out and all bank accounts submitted for scrutiny to determine if it will enter any monetary judgment against the defendants.