I-Team investigates Inspiration Network
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A warning for donors to stop giving to a Christian television network headquartered here in Charlotte.
It's a network that preaches if you sow your financial seed, God can make you debt free, even a millionaire.
The I-Team explores the Inspiration Network and its so-called "gospel of prosperity."
"Tonight is the poorest you'll ever be," evangelist Mike Murdock said on Inspiration Network.
It is a pitch for prosperity
"Tomorrow, somebody's gonna drive a Mercedes," said evangelist Larry Huch on Inspiration Network.
That some call the gospel
"If you can't trust God for $58 you'll never be debt free," Murdock said on Inspiration Network.
And others call greed.
"They're preying on the emotionalism, the tough times of the moment," said Warren Smith with Wall Watchers.
From their studios in Charlotte, North Carolina
"You got to act tonight. Now! In Jesus name," said evangelist Morris Cerullo on Inspiration Network.
To a self-proclaimed audience of 18 million homes
"Jesus was not poor," said Huch on Inspiration Network.
The Inspiration Network is attracting millions in donations
"According to this book, I can give my way into the future," Murdock said on Inspiration Network.
And the scrutiny of a ministry watchdog group.
"We would warn donors about the Inspiration Network," Smith said.
Critics call them "televangelist gunslingers."
"If you've ever decided to obey the Holy Spirit, go to the phone right now," Murdock said on Inspiration Network.
Pastors flown in to raise money for the Inspiration Network.
"I'm asking for 1,179 people," Cerullo said on Inspiration Network.
Each promising a gift from God for a limited number of callers.
"There are 300 people I want to pray for that will set aside a $58 seed for the next 12 months," Murdock said on Inspiration Network.
Mike Murdock is part pastor, part P.T. Barnum theology and theatrics.
"You have a Jehovah-Jireh in your life," he said on Inspiration Network
His "prosperity" pitch filled with drama and the promise of divine miracles.
"They did a geological report and when it came back they found gold on her 27 acres of ground. This happened after a $58 seed," Murdock said on Inspiration Network.
In 2006, the Inspiration Network paid Murdock $100,000.
And with a $696 donation to the Inspiration Network, Mike Murdock claims it can happen to you.
"My goal is for 300 people to hear the wisdom that God gives my heart for them to become millionaires for the sake of the Kingdom of God," Murdock said on Inspiration Network.
"I think there are some donors who are very vulnerable to that message," Smith said. "Especially in tough economic times, you'll find that there are a couple of growth industries. One is the lottery and the other is prosperity preachers."
"Tomorrow, somebody is miraculously gonna have their debts cancelled," Huch said on Inspiration Network.
"It instead treats Jesus or God as a 'cosmic bellhop,'" Smith said.
Smith is with Wall Watchers, a Christian ministry watchdog group based in Matthews, N.C.
These are files on 500 of the largest ministries in America. Their financial statements are reviewed by staff, including a certified fraud examiner.
"Our primary concern is that even if you agree with their theology, they have a moral and legal responsibility to be open and transparent," Smith said.
Wall Watcher's website, , analyzes and grades the ministries according to financial transparency or openness.
"I believe that financial integrity and accountability is extremely important," said Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Ministry Watch gives the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association an "A" for financial transparency.
"My father for years, long before it was ever suggested, he told his board, 'I want to be audited by an outside auditing firm. I want to make that audit public and we'll let the world know how we've used the money,'" Franklin Graham said.
There's a lot of money coming in to the Inspiration Network -- $56 million in 2006. In a four-year period, $39 million in profit.
"Our concern is their donors don't know where their money is going," Smith said.
The gospel of prosperity has been a goldmine for Inspiration CEO David Cerullo. His salary in 2006 was $1.6 million.
"It's certainly out of bounds of what we see as best practice within the ministry world," Smith said.
Cerullo and his wife, Barbara, live in a gated neighborhood in south Charlotte. Their 8,200-square-foot home, with a pool and elevator, can be seen from the air, valued at more than $1.6 million.
In some of the network pitches, viewers are told to send their donations directly to Cerullo himself.
"Send your check or money order to David Cerullo"
While there's no evidence donations are being misappropriated, it's another red flag for Wall Watchers.
"If checks are literally made out to him personally, as opposed to the network itself, there's no way to know for sure where that money ends up," Smith said.
Three years ago, the Inspiration Network's articles of incorporation were rewritten to require just three board members, two of whom are David and Barbara Cerullo.
"So it's hard to understand how the board of the Inspiration Network could be truly independent and fulfill their legal fiduciary responsibilities of independence," Smith said. "We would counsel that donors not give money to the organization."
Despite being on TV every day of the week, David Cerullo declined our request for an on-camera interview. Instead, a spokesman released this statement:
"Our policy is not to engage in public discourse regarding accusations against our ministry. We are audited annually by an independent accounting firm. Every year we file Form 990 with the IRS which provides complete transparency about our income and expenses. Inspiration Ministries is in good standing with both the IRS and the North Carolina Secretary of State. Never in our 18 year history have we had a formal complaint from any regulatory agency."
Even if you've never phoned in a dime, you could be helping to pay for the Inspiration Network's new headquarters.
The so-called "City of Light" is just across the border in Indian Land, S.C.
And the I-Team discovered the state of South Carolina handed the tax-exempt Inspiration Network a $1.2 million economic development grant to pay for road, water and sewer construction.
"In effect, whether we choose to be a donor to that organization or not, we are, in fact, a donor to that organization if we pay taxes," Smith said.
"How many would like to have some prosperity in your life. I'm not against prosperity. I'm for it," Huch said on Inspiration Network.
As the prayers and pitches for prosperity continue on the airwaves, some critics question who's really getting rich.
"Money is a weapon. Money is a bridge. Money's a tool," Murdock said on Inspiration Network.
"Any donor ought to look really before they gave money to the Inspiration Networks," Smith said.
"Money's an instrument. The Bible says money answereth all things," Murdock said on Inspiration Network.
Again, we want to emphasize there's no evidence donations are being misappropriated. The I-Team asked the Inspiration Network for more details on where those donations are going and we were denied.
MinistryWatch.com was founded by a devout Christian and their website acknowledges ministries who are good stewards of your donations.
At this point, Ministry Watch has not yet given the Inspiration Network a grade for financial transparency.