Recently, I interviewed a man who flies as a corporate pilot. Several years ago, he worked as a contract pilot for Paul and Jan Crouch,
who are the founders of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, a 24-hour Christian religious television network. It is the most watched ‘faith-based’ channel in the U.S. and is the sixth largest over-the-air broadcaster, according to Broadcast & Cable’s 2010 report, with an estimated world-wide viewing audience of 100 million households. According to Wikipedia’s sources, with their associated satellite and internet programs, they reach over a billion viewers.
The pilot, who I’ll refer to as Tim, flew for them about eight months, in a Bombardier Challenger plane, which costs between $25 and $30 million new. Their primary base was in Orange County, CA but they had several other homes: a ranch near Sugarland, Texas; Fort Lauderdale; and Conway Twitty’s former compound in Nashville.
Tim said a typical flight would be taking the Crouch’s to various “stations” – places where their program was aired – around the world, but he said they seemed mostly to be having vacations. Paul would later take the log books and make notes such as “Haiti for Children trip.” Tim flew for them less than one year, and during that time took them to Cairo, Dubai, London, Azores, Nice, Costa Rica, and the Bahamas. They each traveled with a ‘bodyguard’ who Tim described as young men, not beefy guys you would expect for this job. In Monaco, they stayed at the Hotel du Paris. You will notice the prices of the suites. Corporate pilots often make hotel and car reservations for their passengers. He reported that when they landed, the Crouches would ask the airport for ‘the best hotel in town’ and that they got separate rooms. Unlike some corporate gigs, Tim said that the Crouches would let the pilots stay in nice hotels – a Hilton instead of a Motel 6 – and gave them a decent meal allowance. He emphasized the pilots were always treated well, and he never saw any signs of them being other than nice people.
However, he also saw very little signs of charitable or church work. During the Gulf Coast hurricanes and the tsunami that hit Indonesia, there was never any talk about going to the impacted sites or sending relief. He never saw any signs of religion: no crosses, no religious jewelry, no Bibles. They never prayed on the plane or at meals. However, they were savvy business people. On one trip, he listened to them discuss purchasing a new letter-opening machine, which could slit open envelopes, discard them and automatically separate cash from checks from letters. Although the machine cost hundreds of thousands, they estimated it would pay for itself by reducing labor costs and by earning more interest by getting the deposits into the bank more quickly. Cash flow is king!
Note: This interview was conducted two years ago. Since then, TBN has been in the news. Again. Stories of a $100,000 motor home for their dogs, private planes, mansions, and hush money to pay off people who have appeared with stories of sexual liaisons. They do not publish their financials, even though they are listed as a 501-c-3 charity, and do not participate in several evangelical oversight organizations that rate ministries on transparency and overhead costs.
- What does a tax-free, worldwide fraud… er, religious media empire look like? (warmsouthernbreeze.wordpress.com)
- NY Times: Lavish TBN Ministry Raises Tax, Self-Dealing Issues (taxprof.typepad.com)
- Religious leaders making bank, say faith creates wealth (lsureveille.com)
- The Holy Land Experience (fearandloathinginorlando.wordpress.com)