2431) Religion-Related Fraud Getting Worse (Aug 13) - According to WorldWide Religious News and the Associated Press, “Randall W. Harding sang in the choir at Crossroads Christian Church in Corona, Calif., and donated part of his conspicuous wealth to its ministries. In his business dealings, he underscored his faith by naming his investment firm JTL, or ‘Just the Lord.’ Pastors and churchgoers alike entrusted their money to him.
“By the time Harding was unmasked as a fraud, he and his partners had stolen more than $50 million from their clients, and Crossroads became yet another cautionary tale in what investigators say is a worsening problem plaguing the nation's churches.
“Billions of dollars has been stolen in religion-related fraud in recent years, according to the North American Securities Administrators Association, a group of state officials who work to protect investors.
“Between 1984 and 1989, about $450 million was stolen in religion-related scams, the association says. In its latest count — from 1998 to 2001 — the toll had risen to $2 billion. Rip-offs have only become more common since.
“‘The size and the scope of the fraud is getting larger,’ said Patricia Struck, president of the securities association and administrator of the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, Division of Securities. ‘The scammers are getting smarter and the investors don't ask enough questions because of the feeling that they can be safe in church.’
“Cases in recent years show just how vulnerable religious communities are.
“Lambert Vander Tuig, a member of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest Calif., ran a real estate scam that bilked investors out of $50 million, the Securities and Exchange Commission says. His salesmen presented themselves as faithful Christians and distributed copies of ‘The Purpose Driven Life,’ by Saddleback pastor Rick Warren, according to the SEC. Warren and his church had no knowledge of Vander Tuig's activities, says the SEC.
“At Daystar Assembly of God Church in Prattville, Ala., a congregant persuaded church leaders and others to invest about $3 million in real estate a few years ago, promising some profits would go toward building a megachurch. The Daystar Assembly was swindled and lost its building.
“And in a dramatically broader scam, leaders of Greater Ministries International, based in Tampa, Fla., defrauded thousands of people of half a billion dollars by promising to double money on investments that ministry officials said were blessed by God. Several of the con men were sentenced in 2001 to more than a decade each in prison....
“Typically, a con artist will target the pastor first, by making a generous donation and appealing to the minister's desire to expand the church or its programs, according to Joseph Borg, director of the Alabama Securities Commission, who played a key role in breaking up the Greater Ministries scam.
“If the pastor invests, churchgoers view it as a tacit endorsement. The con man, often promising double digit returns, will chip away at resistance among church members by suggesting they can donate part of their earnings to the congregation, Borg says.
“‘Most folks think “I'm going to invest in some overseas deal or real estate deal and part of that money is going to the church and I get part. I don't feel like I'm guilty of greed,”’ Borg says.
“If a skeptical church member openly questions a deal, that person is often castigated for speaking against a fellow Christian.
“Ole Anthony of the Trinity Foundation Inc. in Dallas, which investigates fraud and televangelism, partly blames the churches themselves for the problem. Anthony contends that the ‘prosperity gospel’ — which teaches that the truly faithful are rewarded with wealth in this life — is creeping into mainstream churches....
“Investigators say all denominations are at risk, but the most susceptible communities are ones where members are deeply engaged in church activities, such as service programs and small group prayer, giving con artists plenty of chance to ingratiate themselves with congregants.
“Often, perpetrators are so successful building an image as good Christians that churchgoers won't cooperate with law enforcement authorities even after the crime is revealed.
“‘Money has a way of blinding objectivity, even for we who are believers,’ Minkow says.”
Of course some people might say that all religion is a fraudand the $80 billion-plus that American churches and other religious institutions take in each year ought to be counted as ill-gotten gains accepted under false pretenses....
2432) Unholy Mess At Hare Krishna Temple (Aug 13) - According to the New York Post, “So much for peace, love and bean sprouts.
“A faction of Hare Krishna - the kooky cult whose members are supposed to promote goodwill and forgiveness - is in the middle of a civil war following a string of lawsuits and a fistfight in its East Village temple in recent months, court papers show.
“The New York chapter of the Interfaith League of Devotees - whose bizarre and shady practices were first exposed by The Post in March of last year - is being sued by its nationwide leader for putting the sect's nonprofit status in jeopardy by renting rooms at the temple building to tourists.
“The temple's bed and breakfast takes in more than $300,000 a year.
“Joe Bonomo, a k a His Holiness Krsna Balarama Swami, filed the suit against the group's treasurer, Susan Bauer, a k a Eternal Love, in Manhattan Supreme Court last month. Submitted as evidence is a Post investigative article that details a reporter's weeklong stay at the devotee digs and that uncovers the cult's method of getting cash from unsuspecting guests and pushing them toward Krishna.
“The bed-and-breakfast, which remains in operation, makes an estimated $360,000 a year tax-free, according to Bonomo's attorney, Krishnan Chittur. ‘The bed-and-breakfast is generating huge amounts of cash money - $30,000 to $50,000 a month,’ he said.
“A second lawsuit, filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court, alleges that when Bauer learned of board director David Chatterjee's dissent over the B&B in May 2000, a group of her supporters, including ex-husband Nark Kumaravelam, attacked Chatterjee in the third-floor temple and physically threw him out of the headquarters.”
2433) Another Muslim Couple Forced To Separate In India After Drunken Husband Says “I Divorce You!” Three Times (Aug 13) - According to DailyIndia.com and the Indo-Asian News Service, “Another Muslim couple in Orissa were forced to separate after the husband said triple talaq to his wife in a drunken state.
“Najma Biwi, 36, who was forced to separate from her husband two months ago, is spending sleepless nights in Idgamahala village in the coastal district of Kendrapada. Her husband Sheikh Ershad, 40, a trolley rickshaw-puller, said ‘talaq’ to her in an inebriated state. The couple has two sons and a daughter.
“Ershad, who had to move out of the house and now lives in the balcony of a bakery unit, told IANS Sunday, ‘My wife quarrelled with me over a petty matter on June 5. I was in an inebriated state and said “talaq” to her. The village leader (Sardar) learnt about the incident from the neighbours.’ The village committee met and directed my wife to marry some one else, he said.
“‘I have written to the state Human Rights Commission and the National Human Rights Commission to prevent the villagers from remarrying my wife,’ he said.
“Like Najma and her husband Sher Ali - who were forced to separate by orthodox Muslim groups three years ago and were reunited recently - Najma Biwi has been asked to perform ‘Halala’ (marriage with another person) to reunite with her husband.
“Villagers have already identified a person for marrying off Najma Biwi. But the couple has refused to obey the diktat. Najma Biwi is adamant. ‘I will not perform “Halala”. The supreme court helped unite Najma and her husband. I too hope to get justice,’ she said.
“Village committee president Mir Dayan, 65, told IANS,’'It is mandatory for Najma to perform 'Halala' if she wants to unite with her husband.’”...
See Theist File #1876 for details about a similar case that occurred in the spring.
2434) Child Sacrifice Allegedly Occurring In Uganda (Aug 14) - According to ReligionNewsBlog.com and Uganda’s The Monitor, “The story of toddler, Edrine Muguluma who was recently kidnapped and murdered in ritual sacrifice has shocked the nation. He is one of many children that are increasingly being killed in cold blood on the orders of witchdoctors and traditional healers that we must find a solution to.
“To illustrate what I am talking about, I would like to share with you some stories that have made headlines in Uganda.
“Shammim Muhammad, aged 5: On April 4, 1999, Jalia Katusiime, a hair dresser from Njeru town, Mukono district left her five-year-old daughter Shammim Muhammed with a neighbour, Francis Muwanga, to go and attend to a customer. When she returned, both Shammim and Muwanga were missing. There followed a search for her. Her decomposing body was found on Namiya hill. Two of her fingers had been chopped off, her neck cut off and her tongue plucked out. Her private parts were also missing. Police arrested Muwanga as the chief suspect. Later, he and his wife confessed that they had been advised by a witchdoctor, Yunus Samanya, that if they sacrificed a child to the spirits, they would become rich. Muwanga, his wife and the witch doctor were sentenced to death on July 29, 1999 and are in prison.
“Milly Nsonyiwa, aged 1: One-year-old Milly Nsonyiwa of Mukono district disappeared from her mother, Esther Nakachwa on January 22, 1999. A month later, Milly's remains were found in a shrine belonging to Kizito, a traditional healer in the same district. Her body had been cut into pieces - symbolic of sacrifice to the gods.
“Reuben Mugabe, aged 12: 40-year old James Kareju Mugisha of Kagando, Nyabushozi, Mbarara district was arrested on October 9, 1998, attempting to sell his 12-year-old son Reuben Mugabe to Strabag Construction Company for Shs3m for ritual sacrifice. Mugisha, a father of 13 children had hoped to escape poverty by selling one of his sons.
“The above cases are a few of the children sacrificed or who narrowly escaped being sacrificed that have made it to the newspapers. There is suspicion that the problem is much more widespread, especially in remote rural areas where there is minimal media coverage.
“The New Vision reported 15 cases of child sacrifice in 1999 alone. The discovery of over 500 bodies of people who were killed and buried at various sites by the Joseph Kibwetere cult and who nobody had reported missing is an indication of how many children could go missing and are not reported.
“In the cases that have been reported, children are kidnapped or stolen from parents or guardians, lured off by promises of sweets, biscuits or toys or sold off or offered by parents or guardians who believe in witchcraft and who are greedy for money and riches.
“What are the factors leading to child sacrifice? What suggestions can be made on the way forward?
“Almost all the cases of child sacrifice have revolved around witchcraft. The child sacrifices were carried out by witchdoctors or by their clients who have been advised or ordered to do so by witchdoctors, traditional healers, astrologists, traditional medicine men or cult leaders. (It is important to note that all witchdoctors are traditional healers but NOT all traditional healers or herbalists are witchdoctors and many of them do not sacrifice children).
“Such sacrifices are purportedly to appease and invoke gods or spirits or ancestors to use their supernatural abilities to carry out the wishes of the witchdoctor or his or her clients. Such wishes could be the need for healing, protection against enemies or calamities or for riches, prosperity and success.
“A number of children have been kidnapped from school. They are then taken to a witchdoctor's shrine. The children are then killed and sacrificed. Most of the bodies have been found decapitated.
“Some witchdoctors believe that ritual child sacrifice makes their magic more powerful. Body parts like fingers, genitals, or the heart are mixed with herbs or they are used to make charms or talismans that are given to clients....
“More people are openly coming out in the media, both newspapers and radio to associate with witchcraft under the guise of traditional medical practice and associated rituals. Consulting of traditional healers, diviners, witchdoctors, astrologers is touted as fashionable and nothing to be ashamed of.
“This mentality has encouraged more people to openly consult witchdoctors some of whom are encouraging them to sacrifice children as part of the ritual to make the magic work or appease the gods or spirits.
“Gone are the days when consulting witchdoctors would be done at night and in secrecy. Witchdoctors now are well organised and are using advertising a lot by putting up cloth banners near their shrines. Advertisements with fantastic claims are aired on radio announcements and commercials as well as in the newspapers.
“Occasionally, one hears that senior government officials and politicians are attending official functions organised by traditional healers. This has enhanced their popularity and encouraged more people to consult them thus increasing the chances of witchcraft-related child sacrifice.
“Whenever human sacrifice has been required, children are more likely to be the victims than adults. This is because children are more easily persuaded and lured away than adults. They are weak and vulnerable and can easily be kidnapped and carried away. Many witchdoctors also believe that children are pure, undefiled and therefore a preferred sacrifice for the spirits and gods, according to a testimony of Maji Moto, a former witchdoctor who turned Christian in 1999.”...
2435) Hungarian Woman Rescued From Satanic Cult (Aug 14) - According to WorldWide Religious News and Hungary Around The Clock (HATC), “BRATISLAVA, Slovakia: A Slovak police commando team on Friday rescued a Hungarian woman from a satanic cult that had been demanding a ransom for her release, Népszabadság reported.
“Four people were arrested during the raid in Královsky Chlmec and police seized hashish, marijuana, two revolvers, a home-made weapon and more than 200 bullets. They also confiscated objects apparently used for satanic rituals.
“The 34-year-old captive, Mónika S., went to Královsky Chlmec recently to visit relatives, and there met self-styled nature healer Arnold V., the head of the cult. He eventually took the woman into captivity and demanded $40,000 ransom from her husband in Florida. After the woman secretly telephoned her husband last Wednesday, her relatives notified the Hungarian embassy in Bratislava, which then informed Slovak authorities.”