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Former Mountain Of Fire Miracles Ministries Pastors Accuse MFM Church Of Illegal Importation Of Goods In US Property Dispute

Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries (MFM) is in the spotlight in a US court after MFM, one of Nigeria's foremost Pentecostal churches, dragged some former pastors and members to court over monetary and property disputes. The sued pastors and former church members have in turn accused MFM of engaging in fraudulent activities in the US, including evasion of duties owed to US authorities.

Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries (MFM) is in the spotlight in a US court after MFM, one of Nigeria's foremost Pentecostal churches, dragged some former pastors and members to court over monetary and property disputes. The sued pastors and former church members have in turn accused MFM of engaging in fraudulent activities in the US, including evasion of duties owed to US authorities.

In an action filed in the Circuit Court for Prince Georges’ County of Maryland, U.S.A., (Case No. CAL16-26532) on behalf of Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries International, Lagos, and Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, USA, Nevada, the church is seeking declaratory judgment and damages against Pastors Lawrence Adetunji, Ronke Adetunji, and 11 former members of Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, Bowie, Maryland. Also joined in the suit is Christ the Truth Ministry, the successor of MFM Bowie.

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At issue are real property described as 5506 and 5503 Church Road in Bowie, Maryland, which were acquired by MFM Bowie in 2001 and 2004 respectively. Also in contention are funds for the MFM building in Bowie. MFM International (Lagos) claims that the property acquired with the contributions and offerings of the members of MFM in Bowie, without assistance of any form from Mr. Olukoya or MFM headquarters, are property of MFM headquarters by way of trust. The plaintiffs claim further that when Pastor Adetunji and most members of MFM in Bowie decided not to associate further with the denomination, Pastor Adetunji was under an obligation to hand over the properties and funds to MFM headquarters (copy of MFM Complaints attached).

In their response, the defendants allege that they decided to sever their relationship with MFM and its leadership because of the illegal and fraudulent activities of MFM International, Lagos. They allege that MFM International was in the practice of knowingly and deliberately making false claims to evade U.S. Customs duties and taxes on books exported from Nigeria to U.S.

Upon information and belief, the defendants alleged that the plaintiffs had willfully and intentionally evaded U.S. Customs Service duties and had evaded tax payments to the United States Government. They allege that the plaintiffs carried out these illegal activities for many years.

The nature of the illegal activities stems from the fact that the plaintiffs would ship prayer books (specifically, “70 Days Prayer & Fasting” and “Pray Your Way Into [current year]” to various U.S.-based MFM branches with a cover letter categorizing the books as “donations” to be distributed to local parishioners. However, once delivered to the United States, instructions were then emailed to U.S. pastors by MFM International and /or MFM USA instructing them of the price they must charge parishioners in selling these books. The pastors were then instructed to remit the earnings of their sales to MFM International.

The defendants disclosed that, although this practice had been going on for many years, on or about 2013, MFM International started shipping their books directly to U.S. Customs in Baltimore, along with the cover letter stating that the books were “donations” (page 2-3 of the Defendants’ Amended Answer and Counter Claim).

The Defendants asserted that they did not become aware of the illegal practice until 2015. They stated further that, when they became aware, having no power over MFM and its leadership “to influence or change their behavior had (sic) to sever all ties in order to curtail their (defendants’) unwitting participation in plaintiffs’ illegal actions.”

The defendants also argued that MFM International could not lay claim to the property because they contributed nothing towards the acquisition of the property, not even when the defendants requested for assistance by way of a loan to meet some of their financial obligations. They declared that no valid trust was created over their property for the benefit of the plaintiffs.

The case comes up for hearing on October 14, 2017. Some Officers of MFM International, including the General Overseer, Daniel Olukoya are expected to get into the witness box at the hearing.

In an earlier development, MFM brought a similar action before the Superior Court of Los Angeles, California, against Ade Oyeyemi, a former MFM pastor (Los Angeles County Super. Ct.N0. BC 352398). The Fourth Division of the Second Appellate District of the California State Court of Appeal ultimately decided the case in favor of Pastor Oyeyemi. 



Editor's Note: This article has been revised to clarify that the allegations concerning evasion of duties owed to US authorities were made against MFM, not General Overseer Daniel Olukoya personally. Sahara Reporters has published a rejoinder written by General Overseer Daniel Olukoya and MFM, which is appended to this article.


 

Rejoinder

The article published by Sahara Reporters, for which this rejoinder is written presents unsubstantiated and untrue allegations concerning Mountain of Fire & Miracles Ministries, its branch in Bowie, Maryland, and its General Overseer Daniel Kolawole Olukoya.

In 2015, a Mountain of Fire regional overseer (Pastor Lawrence Adetunji, pastor of the MFM Bowie branch), and a group of local trustees left the Mountain of Fire churches. There was a dispute as to ownership of the church buildings, the contents, and the bank accounts. Mountain of Fire was forced to file suit in a Maryland Circuit Court to recover these assets.

In the course of that litigation, Pastor Adetunji, and his trustees raised a variety of defenses seeking to justify their claim over the Mountain of Fire assets. Among these defenses was one made on January 30, 2017 that Mountain of Fire had been illegally importing prayer books from Nigeria and selling them in the United States without paying import duties. This charge was simply untrue, and in the course of the litigation, Mountain of Fire propounded demands that Pastor Adetunji, and each of the break-away trustees provide writings and documents under oath of the facts that supported this allegation.

The case was scheduled to begin trial on October 24, 2017. Suddenly, on September 27, 2017 (less than one month before trial), Sahara Reporters published the article to which this rejoinder is written. Investigation has shown that a member of the break-away congregation had sent out a press release containing this defense, which had reached Sahara Reporters, and asking for it to “be published ASAP” even though the pleading at issue was eight months old. It appeared to the Mountain of Fire legal team that this was a tactic on the part of the break-away congregation to attempt to influence the negotiations and trial preparation that were then ongoing. Mountain of Fire did not change its position in response to this article, but demanded a retraction.

On September 28, 2017, Mountain of Fire presented the sworn testimony of Pastor Grace Ugeh, the Secretary of its United States operations, and the person who oversaw the importation of the prayer books. She testified under oath, and subject to examination by Pastor Adentunji’s attorney, that the appropriate import duties were paid.

Sahara Reporters did little to try to verify the truth of the story. It made no effort to interview the persons who had made this false allegation. It made no effort to review the extensive written and oral statements made under oath that would have shown there was no basis in it. It did not wait to review the testimony of Pastor Ugeh. Instead, it moved immediately to get the discredited story into print.

Its original publication of the story went further and stated that that General Overseer Olukoya personally was accused of fraud and illegality, which was never the case. General Overseer Olukoya was not a party to the litigation at all. It also reported that “most members” of the Mountain of Fire branch had followed Pastor Adetunji in leaving the denomination, which was untrue. A demand by Mountain of Fire that the story be retracted went unanswered.

The trial of the case against Pastor Adentunji and the break-away trustees began on October 23, 2017.

At trial, Mountain of Fire presented uncontradicted testimony as to how the prayer books were imported, the process for the payment of custom duties, and the payment of the custom duties.

At the conclusion of the trial, the Circuit Court found in favor of Mountain of Fire against all of the break-away pastors and trustees by “clear and convincing evidence.” The Court found that the substantial majority (more than 66%) of the congregation at the Bowie Branch had stayed loyal to Mountain of Fire. The Court found that Pastor Adetunji and the trustees with him had breached their fiduciary duties to Mountain of Fire and to the Bowie congregation. The Court ordered all the land to be returned and retitled to Mountain of Fire, and with all of the building contents. It ordered that all of the bank accounts be restored to Mountain of Fire and when it was found that some of the money was missing, judgements were entered against the individual trustees to pay it back personally. 

The Circuit Court findings were affirmed on appeal. Altogether, almost $1 million was recovered and another $198,000 paid by the defendants personally. 

The Court findings can be read in full here.

Sahara Reporters has refused to retract its original story or make corrections until now.

Mountain of Fire hereby sets the story straight, and provides the full picture of the events that were the subject of the original reporting.