Top televangelist Joel Osteen is caught up in a financial scandal that could destroy his $50 million empire.
New York attorney Richard Garbarini claimed he’s blowing the whistle on the 51-year-old nicknamed “The Smiling Preacher.” Garbarini – who previously helped a band win a judgment from Osteen and his Lakewood Church for stealing their music – is calling for an investigation, charging that Osteen uses his charity to promote his for-profit books.
While the Houston-based ministry is listed as a non-profit, Garbarini said: “He’s leveraging the church as a money-making vehicle! The church pays (to air) his sermons, which are just de facto infomercials to promote his books.The Lakewood Church is a shell to funnel people to his website so he can sell his books.” Osteen’s latest title, “You Can, You Will,” was a hot holiday seller, and the Lakewood Church website prominently sells it along with Osteen’s past books, including five best sellers.
Daniel Borochoff, head of Charity Watch, a non-profit watchdog, said Garbarini is right to red-flag Osteen’s activities, if true. “A non-profit needs to be acting in the public interest and not in the private personal business interests of Joel Osteen,” he explained. “The church should benefit from the royalties of these books when they are shouldering at least some of the cost of promoting them. If it isn’t getting something back, it oughta be. It’s too much a promotional vehicle for him.”
While Osteen may be raising eyebrows with his marketing practices, other experts said his actions don’t violate any laws. Ex-Illinois deputy attorney general Floyd Perkins said: “Typically the person who runs the church writes the rules. My experience is that many people who participate have no idea there are no rules at all. It really becomes an ethical question rather than a legal one.”
Osteen’s rep called Garbarini’s allegations “false and baseless,” adding: “For more than 50 years Lakewood Church has adhered to the highest standards of honesty and integrity.”