Three churches were raided by the FBI on Thursday, the Augusta Chronicle reports. The churches, all located near military bases, are affiliated with the House of Prayer Christian Church (HOPCC). The organization, a 501(c)(3), has five Bible seminaries and 12 churches (11 near military bases).
In 2020, the Veterans Education Success organization sent a letter to the US Department of Veterans Affairs in DC requesting an investigation into the church, after interviewing 14 former church members and one current member.
The organization is a non-profit organization that provides free legal assistance to veterans and military-related college students. The purpose of the letter was to “disapprove of HOPCC for funding the GI Bill”.
Raids took place near Fort Gordon in Hephzibah, Georgia, near Fort Stewart in Hinesville, Georgia, and also near Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. Local law enforcement cooperated with the FBI, but no arrests could be confirmed.
Allegations Against Bible Seminaries
GI Bill benefits help “eligible veterans and their family members get money to cover some or all of their tuition or training costs.”
The letter outlined numerous allegations against the church, focusing on Bible colleges accepting student GI Bill funding. Some of the most notable include:
- “Deceiving VA and defrauding veterans of their education benefits.”
- “(Change) its curriculum to keep students enrolled longer.”
- “(Lie) to VA inspectors.”
In 2018, the church received at least $708,145.53 in funding after the 9/11 GI Bill and is accused of exhausting student benefits, never granting them a certificate of completion. One student participated for 12 years, completely exhausting his GI Bill funding. They weren’t able to transfer credits anywhere, and their work wouldn’t count those “credits” for promotion.
Bible seminars are intended to equip students to become pastors and teach in HOPCC churches. They accept female students, however, churches do not allow women to teach or preach. Many said they had to recruit more students during school hours, traveling to nearby bases to achieve this.
Allegations against churches
In addition to the allegations against the seminaries, the House of Prayer churches allegedly:
- “Engaged in other criminal activities and functioning as a cult.”
- “Manipulating veterans to donate their VA disability award to the church.”
- “Engaged in mortgage fraud.”
Rony Denis and the Church of Hinesville
Protests outside the Hinesville church site occurred in 2017, according to Coastal Carrier. Some members considered the protesters’ claims that the church was a cult to be baseless, while those on the picket line told a different story. A former member has accused church pastor Rony Denis of cutting his son off from her after he discovered Denis’ alleged real estate scams.
Embittered former members of the church have launched a website to collect testimonies of the alleged abuse they suffered. Some site reports claim Denis manipulated families, committed identity theft, and more. Here are testimonials from the website and unverified accounts of experiences of former members working for and attending the Hinesville Church:
- Arlen Bradeen: “(Denis) uses the Bible to manipulate people, to destroy families, to drain them of their money, and if anyone dares to question him, he will publicly destroy them.”
- JM Rodriguez: “Ten years of working ‘ministry’ and all I did was generate over $100,000 in real estate revenue every month and give it all to Denis, plus they made me buy some property, and I bought property without my permission on my behalf, got me put on the rental market, and gave them all the money that came from those properties. I never profited from all that work that I was doing.
- Adam Boles: “He took over $40,000 from my account, asked Julie to divorce him and move in with him, asked Anthony Oloans to withdraw credit cards in my name, increase the limit and never pay. He made me pay for a car he repossessed, have the sheriffs deliver foreclosure papers on my house, and the list goes on and on. I had lived on credit cards until I was over $50,000 in debt, and I had to default and destroy my credit.
Many more have submitted their stories, but none are currently verified.