For the better part of three decades, Benny Hinn has fit every stereotype most of us associate with televangelists. The opulent lifestyle, expensive suits, a near-fanatical following, the lot. Hinn is best known for his healing crusades, at which people topple over with a mere wave of his hand.
Speaking as a charismatic/pentecostal who has watched Hinn’s act for two decades, something about his act has always seemed phony. As it turns out, a number of investigations have raised concerns about whether Hinn is legitimate. Perhaps the most damning came in 2005, when CBC’s “The Fifth Estate” revealed that many people with obvious medical and physical conditions never make it on stage to declare they’ve been healed. The report also revealed that Hinn spends money in a way that one forensic accountant found hard to reconcile with legitimate business objectives. Watch the whole thing here.
Hinn was able to dodge the questions raised about his spending then. He tried–and mostly failed–to answer more questions in a 2009 interview with “Nightline.”
But they may be about to catch up with him. On Wednesday, investigators with the IRS and Postal Inspection Service descended on Hinn’s headquarters in Grapevine, Texas to execute a search warrant. As is their custom, they were mum about the details. The U. S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas would neither confirm nor deny if Hinn is the target of an investigation.
However, WFAA in Dallas discovered some strong indications Hinn is indeed under the federal microscope. Watch here.
The agents rolled into Hinn’s offices at around 9 a. m. on Wednesday, and were still there by late Wednesday afternoon. White trucks showed up later in the afternoon, and agents were seen carrying boxes out of the trucks and into the building. A federal source was mum about specifics, but did tell WFAA that this was part of a very lengthy investigation. An IRS investigator on site added that the IRS agents were part of the Criminal Investigation Division, which looks into tax evasion and general fraud against the federal government.
In other words–all indications are that Hinn has a lot of reasons to be very afraid. And that list may be growing. According to KXAS-TV in Fort Worth, investigators showed up at Hinn’s offices for a second day on Thursday.
Clearly, the IRS think there’s smoke. But is there a fire? A longtime watchdog of religious fraudsters certainly thinks so. Ole Anthony of the Trinity Foundation–best known as the guy who helped expose Robert Tilton as a fraud–told WFAA that historically, “the IRS has been loath to investigate any religious organization,” even though there is “more fraud in the name of God” than virtually anything else in the world. Translation–if the IRS is even looking into Hinn, in all likelihood there’s a there there.