Judge approves agreement to extend financial administrator's role with local megachurch

2013-02-22T12:00:00Z 2013-03-27T18:13:11Z Judge approves agreement to extend financial administrator's role with local megachurchMarisa Kwiatkowski marisa.kwiatkowski@nwi.com, (219) 662-5333 nwitimes.com

CROWN POINT | Family Christian Center won't regain control of its own finances for at least six months, according to an agreement approved Friday in Lake Superior Court.

Lake Superior Court Judge Diane Kavadias Schneider signed off on the agreement between officials from the megachurch and Evangelical Christian Credit Union, all of whom agreed the church's financial operations will continue to be handled by an appointed financial administrator until September. After six months, officials from the California-based credit union and church told the judge they will consider signing a loan modification agreement.

Evangelical Christian Credit Union filed a foreclosure case against Family Christian Center in 2011 after the church defaulted on the mortgage for its worship center at 340 W. 45th St. in Munster, Lake Superior Court records show.

A Times investigation published Sunday revealed Family Christian Center had been spending millions of dollars annually on leadership compensation, travel, meals and jet fuel, yet fell behind on its mortgage payments and racked up a list of past-due bills, according to records from the county and Lake Superior Court.

At the time Evangelical Christian Credit Union filed its foreclosure case, Family Christian Center had been bringing in about $10 million per year and had a $98,000 monthly mortgage payment, a transcript of a Dec. 4 court hearing states. The church now brings in about $7.3 million and has a $72,000 monthly mortgage payment, the transcript shows.

It is unclear, based on available information, how much Family Christian Center owes on the mortgage for its worship center.

The church also owed at least $550,000 in verified past due bills as of Dec. 4, according to a transcript of a court hearing.

Family Christian Center agreed to have its financial operations taken over by Steven Baer, of Rally Capital Services LLC, in March 2012, according to court records obtained by The Times. The Chicago-based company "offers financial, administrative and operational management advisory services to under-performing and distressed companies in and out of bankruptcy," according to its website.

Rally maintains the church's money and records on the church's behalf, court records show. Church officials and Baer, as the appointed administrator, also were required to collaborate on developing a cash operating budget, according to the agreement.

During a Dec. 4 court hearing, attorney Roy Dominguez asked the judge to return control of Family Christian Center's finances to church officials. He said they were entitled to regain control of their own affairs, according to a transcript of the Dec. 4 hearing.

On Friday, Dominguez told the judge that Family Christian Center no longer objects to continuing with the financial administrator. He did not give a reason for church officials changing their minds.

Kavadias Schneider approved the extended agreement Friday but warned church officials they need to get some financial oversight in place. She asked Baer whether the church's current budget will allow it to meet its financial obligations.

"It does need a little massaging but, essentially, it works," Baer replied.

He told the judge there is no money in the budget to pay for four condos owned by the church.

The First National Bank of Illinois filed a separate mortgage foreclosure case Tuesday against Family Christian Center, Senior Pastor Steve Munsey and several others relating to those four Munster properties, Lake Superior Court records show. Family Christian Center owed the bank $604,447.02, which included late charges and fees, as of Jan. 4, court records state.

That case is pending.

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