Local megachurch faces new foreclosure case

2013-02-21T19:00:00Z 2013-03-27T18:13:11Z Local megachurch faces new foreclosure caseMarisa Kwiatkowski marisa.kwiatkowski@nwi.com, (219) 662-5333 nwitimes.com

MUNSTER | Family Christian Center faces a new legal hurdle in its leaders' efforts to restore the financial health of the megachurch, according to documents filed this week in Lake Superior Court.

The First National Bank of Illinois filed a mortgage foreclosure case Tuesday against the church, Senior Pastor Steve Munsey, the Internal Revenue Service and Sutton Place Condominiums relating to four condos in Munster, 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.

The IRS and Sutton Place Condominiums are listed as defendants because they both filed liens against Family Christian Center, county records show. The church owes Sutton Place $5,700 in unpaid association dues, court records state. The IRS has two outstanding federal tax liens against the church totaling $53,790.34.

This latest foreclosure proceeding could be another blow to Family Christian Center's already strained finances.

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.

A California-based lender, 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. That case still is pending.

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.

Family Christian Center also appears to have owed at least $550,000 in verified past due bills as of Dec. 4, according to a transcript of a court hearing on the credit union's foreclosure case.

Family Christian Center's most recent foreclosure case relating to four condos was filed because it hasn't paid the mortgage or property taxes, court records state. The church's loan with First National Bank of Illinois has been in default since Sept. 1, according to a complaint the bank filed Tuesday in Lake Superior Court.

All four condos were sold in the Lake County treasurer's tax sale because of unpaid property taxes, county records show. The church paid to redeem one of the properties; the bank paid on the church's behalf to save the other three, according to county records and the bank's attorney, Carla Pyle.

To redeem a property, the owner has to pay Lake County all its back taxes and pay the buyer the amount for which the property was purchased plus 10 percent interest, Lake County Treasurer John Petalas said.

Roy Dominguez, spokesman and attorney for the church, told Judge Diane Kavadias Schneider the properties were used by visiting pastors of the church. The judge told Dominguez that Family Christian Center no longer could afford the units, according the the Dec. 4 court transcript.

Dominguez told The Times he has no comment on any pending litigation.

Pyle said the foreclosure proceeding has "been in the works for quite some time." She declined to comment further.

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