(RNS) — A New York City grand jury has indicted Christian Media Corp., the publisher of evangelical news website The Christian Post, and William Anderson, its former chief executive, on financial fraud charges, along with Etienne Uzac, who ran Newsweek magazine’s parent company.
The allegations center on more than $10 million in loans to buy computer equipment, but the proceeds were actually used to keep Newsweek magazine, owned by a related firm, operating, according to an indictment unsealed this week.
Some of those funds were funneled to The Christian Post’s parent firm, the indictment alleges.
The 14-year-old Christian Post — which has ties to both a prominent Southern Baptist ethicist and a controversial Korean pastor — claims to be “the #1 Christian website in the world.” According to research firm SimilarWeb.com, the site has received 2.42 million unique visitors in the past six months, down 2.51 percent over the previous period.
Along with news aimed at an evangelical audience – The Christian Post advertises itself as “pandenominational” — the site is noted for publishing commentaries authored by conservative evangelical and charismatic commentators, including Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources; Michael Brown, host of the “Line of Fire” radio program; and John Stonestreet of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
The Christian Post also has ties to a number of high-profile national evangelical leaders.
Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, is the publication’s executive editor. Princeton professor Robert P. George, White House evangelical adviser Johnnie Moore and National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference President Samuel Rodriguez are listed on the website’s roster of “senior editorial advisers.”
The grand jury charged Anderson; Christian Media Corp.; IBT Media Inc.; Uzac, a co-founder and former executive of IBT Media; and computer firm Oikos Networks with fraudulently obtaining millions of dollars in loans as part of the scheme.
None of those religious leaders was named in the indictment.
Prosecutors allege that IBT Media/Newsweek Media Group received over $8.6 million in the scheme, while Christian Media Corp. netted just under $1.5 million. The monies were allegedly transferred to other accounts and used for Newsweek operations and not the purchase of computer servers.
Anderson and Christian Media Corp. were also charged with two counts of falsifying business records, and criminal contempt, according to the indictment. Anderson allegedly set up a website, phone number and mailing address for a “Karen Smith LLC,” ostensibly an individual who audited financial records for Christian Media Corp. and IBT Media as part of the loan application process.
No such person or audit exists, according to prosecutors.
Anderson and Uzac were expected to be arraigned Thursday (Oct. 11) in Manhattan, District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s office said.
Michelle Vu, chief of staff at The Christian Post, released a statement distancing the publication from the indictments: “There are no charges against Christian Post, (and) no allegations of any wrongdoing by Christian Post,” she said.
Vu stated the website “will continue its work as usual, focusing on bringing fair, accurate and relevant news to its readers.”
Uzac, in a statement, claimed the indictment was payback for an International Business Times article on the prosecutor.
“I believe this very aggressive investigation is fueled by retaliation against me and my news media company for having uncovered that the Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. declined to press charges against Harvey Weinstein after his attorney paid Vance money,” he said.
Christian Media Corp., the Washington, D.C.-based company named in the indictment, owns The Christian Post and related media properties.
CMC is also linked to IBT Media, which is also known as Newsweek Media Group. IBT Media purchased the fabled Newsweek weekly magazine from mogul Barry Diller in 2014, although the magazine said in a Sept. 14 statement it is now independent of IBT Media and Newsweek Media Group.
Uzac and the indicted media companies have been linked to David Jang, a Korean pastor who heads World Olivet Assembly. In 2012, Christianity Today magazine reported Jang was “a controversial figure who, according to credible reports, has been hailed by some of his followers as the ‘Second Coming Christ.'”
In a statement emailed to RNS by publicist Deborah Hamilton, Land downplayed his role at the website. He also praised its news operation.
“As Executive Editor of the Christian Post, my role has always been more ‘consultative’ and as an Op Ed writer, rather than hands-on daily editorial supervision,” Land said. “All of my dealings with the Christian Post have been on the journalistic and news delivery side. I have found the people I have worked with to be dedicated, highly motivated, of sterling character and commitment. I have never had anything to do with the financial side of the Christian Post operation or of any of its related entities.”
Land did not answer follow-up questions on whether he will remain associated with the website, or if the behavior alleged against The Christian Post’s owners concerned him.
The Christian Post still lists Land as executive editor. The CMC website still lists Land in his executive editor position in its “CMC Leadership” page as well.
Moore, via text message, told RNS the editorial advisory board “agreed to be voluntarily available to the editors on an as-needed basis and that’s about the extent of it. They sometimes ask us for perspectives on areas of coverage or for introductions to sources or interviewees. I appreciate it when they do.”
“We have no material involvement in the publication,” he said.