GCx Web Library
Resources on the Great Commission church movement
aka Great Commission Churches, Great Commission Ministries, Great Commission Association of Churches, Great Commission International, Great Commission Students, The Blitz Movement
Resources on the Great Commission church movement
aka Great Commission Churches, Great Commission Ministries, Great Commission Association of Churches, Great Commission International, Great Commission Students, The Blitz Movement
Great Commission Inc. and James Douglas McCotter
(The KANE Report)
(Not including Exhibits attached to original)
Larry Zilliox, Jr., and Larry Kahaner
KANE Associates International, Inc.
Alexandria, VA 22301
TO: File AUG 10 1990
RE: Factual Analysis of the Operations and Activities of Great Commission Inc. and James Doug1as McCotter
INTRODUCTION: GCI AND JAMES McCOTTER
“Great Commission International” (GCI) is the best known among a plethora of names designating entities associated with James Douglas McCotter. For purposes of this report, “GCI” or “GCI/McCotter” will be used as generic designations for these entities. GCI activities have been a mixture of religious, political, and business undertakings, often without clear distinctions among these categories. GCI has been designated as a non-profit organization with church status. To an objective observer, however, the activities of its founders and members may often seem oriented more toward the pursuit of money or political power than toward spiritual growth. For example, although the business ventures of GCI/McCotter have involved million dollar transactions and apparently large profits, and although McCotter and other leaders of the group have led luxurious lifestyles, GCI to date has built not a single religious facility. Promises to build churches have not been kept: GCI’s religious services are held in high school gymnasiums.
Published reports and statements by former members have suggested that GCI shows characteristics identified with “destructive cults.” These attributed characteristics include deceptive recruiting practices, a hidden agenda in group activities, secrecy, and practices identified with mind control or “brainwashing.” GCI has been identified as a “shepherding” movement which actively promotes dependence on and unquestioning obedience of strong leaders. Former members have reported that GCI members are taught to inculcate obedience early, disciplining their children by striking them with wooden spoons until the children gasp. This technique, which is illustrative of GCI’s notions of authority and obedience, is overtly intended to break the spirit and inhibit independent thinking. Members who leave the group are shunned, sometimes by members of the their own families who remain in GCI, and if they speak out are attacked for “slander.”
Any objective inquiry into GCI/McCotter is complicated by group practices which include extreme secretiveness; lack of candor about, or even misrepresentations of, activities; directing members to associate as exclusively as possible with other members; encouraging members to regard outsiders as enemies or even agents of Satan; and a vertical organizational structure which inhibits the ability of those below the top to grasp the full scope or nature of GCI/McCotter activities. Even unavoidable public records are rendered complicated by GCI’s/McCotter’s habits of undertaking frequent moves, both between and within geographic locations, of making frequent and sudden name changes, or of using multiple names for closely associated or even apparently identical entities. Such practices would seem to have no logical purpose other to confuse attempts to examine the group; these practices have characterized GCI for most of its existence.
The present report is concerned mainly with business and political activities of GCI/McCotter. It is beyond this report’s scope to detail allegations concerning cult-like religious practices within GCI. However, a number of exhibits attached to this report provide glimpses into these practices. In particular, Exhibit A, “Reject the Wicked Man” by Jerry Paul MacDonald – originally published in Cultic Studies Journal (1988) – is attached to provide insight into life within GCI. (GCI is identified as “Oasis” in MacDonald’s article.) MacDonald’s main emphasis is on how GCI leaders promote anxiety, conformity, and unquestioning obedience through manufactured crises, “purges,” suddenly-assembled and often late-night inquisitional meetings, excommunications without explanation, and shunning. In passing, MacDonald’s article provides insight into other GCI practices such as coercion, deception, secrecy, and paranoia about outsiders. MacDonald also illustrates how GCI members’ lives and activities are directed by a few leaders whose edicts are to be obeyed immediately and without question or reservation. The elaborate inquisitional and purging rituals are a means to enforce this absolute obedience.
What follows is a factual analysis comprised of information developed by Operations through interviews with former members and business associates of GCI/McCotter, and by examination of archival information such as source material from GCI, newspaper clippings, and public documents. Certain former members allege criminal activity on the part of GCI/McCotter; this report includes such allegations only when the source had direct knowledge of the relevant incident. Operations makes no claims as to the validity of allegations contained herein, which are included for informational purposes.
McCOTTER AND GCI: A BRIEF HISTORY
James Douglas McCotter grew up in Texas and in Colorado Springs, where he graduated from high school in 1963. He attended college at the University of Colorado at Greeley (and possibly elsewhere) and, according to published reports and his own statements, served in Vietnam as a clerk. From a strong fundamentalist religious family, he seems to have begun evangelizing as early as his college years. The history of “GCI/McCotter,” however, can properly begin in 1970-1972, when McCotter traveled around the United States by bus. This activity, called “The Blitz,” has achieved legendary status within GCI comparable to Moses in the wilderness or Mao’s Long March. The Blitz consisted of intensive evangelizing on college campuses, carried out by McCotter and some early followers, notably Dennis Clark who later would become titular head of Great Commission. The Blitz culminated in 1972, when McCotter located in Ames, Iowa, and focused his activities on the campus of Iowa State University.
The Iowa State years, lasting about a decade, can serve as a model of McCotter/GCI operations and methods. In summary:
1. McCotter/GCI has focused recruiting/proselytizing activities on the campuses of large public universities. Such campuses have been favorite hunting grounds of cultic organizations, since they provide a large pool of potential converts, separated from family and home-church influences, and often lonely amid the anonymity of a large campus.
2. GCI/McCotter’s Ames activities came under a variety of names: Alpha Omega; Iowa State University Bible Study; Student Publications; Life Now; Today, Inc.; The Higher Education Opportunity Service; Ames Fellowship Church; Communication Forum; Students for Origins Research; Iowa Web Printers, Inc.
3. As the names above may suggest, many of McCotter’s organizations seemed directed toward business rather than religious activities. In particular, McCotter showed a fondness for media activities – at first, in the form of newspapers and other printed publications.
4. At Iowa State, McCotter’s organizations became controversial and were accused of misrepresentation. Exhibit D reproduces an article from the Des Moines Register, August 12, 1979, reporting complaints of Iowa State University officials against Iowa Web Printers, Inc., a McCotter enterprise that, they charged, had falsely claimed affiliation with the University. Exhibit B, from the same paper, March 9, 1980, gives an account of other controversies associated with McCotter/GCI in Ames.
5. McCotter’s income while he lived in Ames was of uncertain origin. He told the Des Moines newspaper (see Exhibit C) that his only income was from money left on his doorstep by followers or sent through the mail (usually anonymously, he said): at different times, he reported different amounts for these donations. Former members interviewed by Operations believed that McCotter’s income at this time was larger than the $300 to $600 a month he claimed.
Through the 1970s and 1980s, McCotter-associated organizations sprang up on other college campuses – Ohio State University (Solid Rock Fellowship, renamed New Covenant Christian Church, and Ohio State Bible Studies), Kent State University (KSU Bible Studies), Towson State University in Maryland (New Life Christians), the University of Maryland (Great Commission), the University of Guelph in Toronto (University Bible Studies). Exhibit E presents a collection of articles about GCI activities on various campuses: once again, the pattern included an array of different names, name changes, a mixture of religious and business activities, an interest in media, claims of misrepresentation, and controversy. In September 1989, officials of the University of Guelph banned the McCotter/GCI organization from campus following a three-month investigation of the group’s activities. The GCI/McCotter group, University Bible Studies, was the first organization banned from that campus in its 25-year history.
In 1980, reports indicated a move of GCI/McCotter activities to San Clemente, California. Operations has not developed information from this locale.
1983 brought a major shift for GCI/McCotter when the base of operations was moved to suburban Maryland, near the University of Maryland and within the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. “Great Commission, Inc.” became the formal name for McCotter’s activities with the incorporation of GCI as a non-profit religious organization on August 3, 1983. (See Exhibit F.) Close associates in GCI were John Hopler and Dennis Clark, a veteran of the Blitz sometimes called “Bishop” Clark. Hopler later moved to Columbus, Ohio, where he is now affiliated with the GCI Linwood Road Community Church. Clark heads the Valley Brook Community Church (VBCC) in Silver Spring, Maryland. (Valley Brook Community Church holds non-profit tax-exempt status separately from GCI; but it has shared the same office suite and address as GCI. VBCC has claimed a membership of up to 800 during its seven-year existence. It continues to meet in a high school, telling members that not enough money is available to build a promised church facility.) Other McCotter associates during the Maryland years were Rogers Kirven, his primary business parther whose activities are addressed below, and Tom Short, who became known as the “Noontime Preacher” at the University of Maryland. The aggressive campus recruiting tactics of Short and other GCI members were instrumental in the University’s decision to undertake “cult awareness” education on the College Park campus.
1987 brought another move for McCotter and (at least apparent) changes in GCI leadership. That year, McCotter relocated to Orlando, Florida, accompanied by close GCI associates Rogers Kirven, Dave Black, and the Ripamonti family. On or about September 15, 1987, according to a resolution by the GCI board of directors signed by John Hopler as Secretary (see Exhibit L), McCotter resigned from the board and as president of GCI. (Exhibit L names, as GCI president, McCotter’s longtime follower Dennis Clark.) In Orlando, McCotter has attended the First Baptist Church, adding to the impression that he is no longer associated with GCI. More recently, Rogers Kirven told Operations Source number 11 that he and McCotter were no longer associated.
It is not clear whether the apparent separation of McCotter from GCI can be taken at face value, especially given GCI/McCotter’s history of moves, name changes, and similar obscuring actions. Source number 11 reported to Operations a December 1987 meeting with Rob Irving, a GCI apostle and Southeast regional leader. Irving told Source 11 that, “Because of pressure and evil closing in on the church, we need an air of secrecy,” and that “McCotter has been sent away by the church to conduct church business incognito.” Source number 3, who was employed by McCotter’s Profit Group from June 1988 until July 1989, reported to Operations that President Dennis Clark called McCotter “on the average twice a day the entire time I was employed there.” Source 3 also reported that Rogers Kirven wrote for GCI publications during this same period following the apparent separation.
James McCotter is presently listed as owner of a house at 12440 Park Avenue in Orlando. Source 11 has reported that McCotter drives a Porsche 928 automobile and that he is building a multi-million dollar home in the Orlando area. He continues to pursue business goals, especially in relation to media ownership and control, and has been the focus of litigation. Meantime, GCI organizations also continue to function in a variety of religious, political, and business guises. As the 1989 expulsion from Guelph University shows, GCI’s methods continue to be controversial.
GCI/McCOTTER POLITICAL ACTIVITIES
From the beginning, GCI/McCotter has mixed religion with politics, directing members to engage in activities on behalf of a number of conservative causes such as support for the Nicaraguan Contras and anti-abortion. The discussion below focuses primarily on two events of 1986, the formation of Americans for Biblical Government, and the candidacy for office of at least twelve GCI members. These events of 1986 may be illustrative of GCI’s tactics in political matters.
In 1986, GCI/McCotter formed Americans for Biblical Government, a shadowy organization which disappeared as suddenly as it appeared. ABG’s most public activity was a rally on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in support of the U.S. backed Contras in Nicaragua. This rally featured Congressmen Bob Livingston, Tom DeLay, Pat Swindall, and Robert Dornan. It received front-page coverage in the Washington Times, with a photo showing GCI members on the steps of the Capitol.
ABG also raised money. Two advertisements ran in GCI publications, inviting readers to join ABG by sending $17.76 (see Exhibit BB). The Maryland address for ABG is a suite next to the office GCI occupied in 1986. Operations has attempted to determine if ABG was separately incorporated. Operations contacted the Maryland Secretary of State Corporations Division, the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation, the Maryland Board of Elections, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Federal Elections Commission. None of these agencies had any records identifiable with ABG. The activities of ABG and ABG itself apparently disappeared after 1986. Operations could not develop any information to show whether ABG is still active, or to indicate how much money it collected and what happened to that money.
Also in 1986, GCI made what appears to have been a calculated foray into local Maryland politics. No fewer than twelve GCI members decided, almost simultaneously, to run for election to the Maryland Republican and Democratic Central Committees. Two published reports from the Washington Post, August 17 and September 7, 1986, are attached as Exhibit Y. Attached as Exhibit Z are three advertisements for GCI candidates Gail Walls, Jim Reid, and Mary Dunphy. Published reports indicate that, of the twelve GCI candidates for office, eight ran as Republicans and four as Democrats. Two GCI members, Gail Walls and Jim Reid, both moved to new districts shortly before filing as candidates. (It also appeared that GCI members who were not candidates moved into Montgomery County shortly before the election. Published reports at the time quoted former members as saying that church elders told GCI members where to live and whom to live with. GCI leaders denied this and said that the 1986 moves into and within jurisdictions were coincidental rather than a concerted attempt to swell the vote for GCI candidates.)
Some GCI candidates claimed not to know that other GCI members were running for office, but somehow no more than two members filed as candidates in each district. Walls, in fact, even switched from the Democratic to the Republican party before she filed. GCI member and candidate Mark Fisher told the Montgomery County Sentinel, in an interview published August 7, 1986, that he attended church with Republican County Central Committee candidates Robert Normoyle, Gladys Marie Hensley, and Laura McKinley. Normoyle, Hensley, and GCI member Thomas Gyde all had the same campaign treasurer, Lillian Hensley, who is Gladys Marie Hensley’s sister. (Mark Fisher refused to give an interview to the Washington Post ten days after his Sentinel interview, an ironic footnote given the fact that Fisher is now employed by the Washington Post as a foreign correspondent in Germany.) The masthead for the GCI publication The Cause, dated July/August 1986 (see Exhibit G), lists GCI members and candidates Janet Warren and Lynn Allen on the production staff. Mark Fisher also worked for The Cause. McCotter and Dennis Clark are listed as publishers of the July/August 1986 issue.
GCI/McCotter organized the membership in an attempt to win election for GCI candidates. Source number 9, a former GCI member from Ohio, reported to Operations that Source 9 and other Ohio members were recruited by elders of her Ohio GCI church to travel to Maryland for the 1986 Labor Day weekend, to work and canvas on behalf of GCI candidates. Approximately twenty Ohio GCI members were driven overnight to Maryland, where on Saturday morning they attended an organizing session in the ballroom of a local hotel. They listened to talks and prayers by local GCI officials, and were given maps and literature to be distributed. (Attached as Exhibit AA is a copy of a script given to GCI members who canvassed on behalf of GCI candidates Gail Walls and Jim Reid.) Source 3 believes that there were three to four hundred people in the ballroom, and that these were all GCI members.
Source 3 spent Saturday canvassing for her GCI candidates – Gail Walls, Mary Dunphy, Jim Reid, and a fourth whose name Source could not recall. Saturday night was spent in homes of local GCI members. On Sunday, Source 3 and colleagues were given breakfast and provided with sack lunches made by local GCI members, followed by another full day of political work. Ironically, according to Source 3, members missed Sunday religious services because of directed political activity. (Missing Sunday services is generally considered a serious offense by GCI elders.) After working all day Sunday, the Ohio group drove all night to return home.
Publicity about GCI in the Montgomery County Sentinel and Washington Post may have been instrumental in the defeats of all GCI candidates in 1986. After that and the apparent disappearance of Americans for Biblical Government, politicking by GCI has been less overt but has continued. For example, in 1990 GCI members were given written instructions to telephone Maryland state senators during an anti-abortion filibuster. GCI members have produced and distributed “media kits” on political topics to local newspapers and broadcast stations.
GCI AND THE MEDIA
It is beyond the scope of this report, and outside the guidelines established by Operations for evaluating destructive cults, to analyze the trend by shepherding groups to acquire media outlets. However, it is clear that media have been a principal focus of GCI/McCotter ambitions since the early days in Iowa. In recent years, the acquisition and manipulation of media assets has been a focus of activity and money by McCotter and GCI. In early years, GCI/McCotter employed mainly print media, and directed these efforts internally (to control members’ thinking and to move them to stronger recruiting efforts). Eventually, however, the focus moved outward, with the ambition to reach a general audience with GCI’s religious and political points of view. Always, however, GCI involvement in the media has been a producer of revenue.
McCotter sees the media as a powerful tool of religious and politic power. Attached as Exhibit H is his Media Mandate, a transcript of McCotter’s presentation at a 1983 Media Conference sponsored by GCI. Media Mandate is available from GCI as both pamphlet and video. It announces the goal to reach every home in America through the media, and states clearly the purpose of presenting a specific viewpoint against a perceived “99%” bias toward “humanistic, evolutionary, atheistic, anti-God, or unbiblical” teaching in American media outlets. Media Mandate also implies that GCI media activities must have an ulterior motive in every publication or broadcast, no matter what its overt content. According to McCotter, to approach a potential convert, a GCI member will “talk to him about a lot of things and get to know him and be friendly”; however, the “goal” must be always and only “for Jesus’ sake.” Any activity is “unspiritual if it does not have the goal of ultimately attacting [sic] them” to GCI’s religious purpose. Therefore, a basic tactic of GCI media activities will be providing neutral material of interest to general consumers, in order to draw them in and make them available for indoctrination with the religious and political viewpoints of GCI/McCotter. McCotter uses the analogy of programming a computer to convey his notion of how the media operates on consumers.
What follows is a necessarily abbreviated history of GCI/McCotter media activities. Perhaps even more than the groups’ other activities, its media involvements have been marked by name and location changes, complex transactions, and other confusing elements.
In 1975, GCI started publishing a newspaper to parallel its activities on campuses around the country. Attached as Exhibit G are reproductions of mastheads of GCI’s newspapers published from 1976 into 1989. (Although GCI continues to publish a newspaper, copies of recent issues are not currently available to Operations.) James McCotter is not listed on the masthead of any publication until 1983, when he is listed as Publisher and Editor of The Cause. Source number 6 advised Operations that McCotter maintained operational control over all GCI publications that this source was involved with. This included, but was not limited to, Today’s Student. Exhibit D, the story from the Des Moines Register, identifies McCotter as the President of Iowa Web Printers, Inc., which published Today’s Student in 1979.
McCotter’s Media Mandate (1983) announces the inception of U.S. Press. According to a note on page 7 of Exhibit H, U.S. Press is “a national general-interest weekly newspaper” which contains “typical newspaper content to wisely maintain general readership.” The note goes on to state that “the goal is to get U.S. Press into every home, in every city, in all America.” It further states that “there are now a quarter million readers.”
The first masthead for U.S. Press (as seen in Exhibit C) states that a fifty-two week subscription is $25.00. GCI claimed a readership of a quarter million. At the same time that GCI was publishing U.S. Press, it continued to publish its primarily internal The Cause. The masthead for The Cause (as seen in Exhibit C) shows a circulation of 2,970 at about the same time that U.S. Press was beginning, August 1984. The Cause circulation figure is probably a reasonably accurate indicator of GCI membership at the time: Sources 7 and 10 told Operations that GCI members were pressured by church elders to purchase publications, this being an effort to promote conformity within the group. (Subscriptions also would have been a source of income for GCI/McCotter.) And so, if the number of paid subscriptions to U.S. Press was likely to have been less than 5,000, GCI apparently gave away many times that number in order to reach a claimed “readership” of 250,000. It is surprising, then, that U.S. Press managed to publish even for the year that it lasted.
In 1986, GCI/McCotter incorporated two for-profit companies as investment vehicles. On April 17, 1986, Alpha Capital Corporation (ACC) was incorporated in Maryland. Attached as Exhibit I is a copy of the articles of incorporation for ACC, showing McCotter, Dennis Clark (soon to be named president of GCI), and Rogers Kirven as officers. Kirven has been described to Operations by Sources 1, 3, 4, 6, and 8 as McCotter’s right-hand man. Kirven is an officer in most of the companies affiliated with McCotter.
On May 2, 1986, ACC purchased, at auction, radio station WNTR, located in Silver Spring, Maryland, for a bid price of 755,000.00. Attached as Exhibit J is a copy of the auctioneers’ bill of sale. Attached as Exhibit K are two pages from the application for assignment of license of WNTR (AM), filed with the FCC on May 6, 1986. Page one of Exhibit K shows that, at the time ACC purchased the station, GCI owned 100% of ACC’s stock. Page two of Exhibit K shows McCotter as president of GCI at that time.
On or about November 5, 1987, ACC entered into an asset purchase agreement to sell radio station WNTR to a company known as WNTR of Silver Spring, Inc. (WNTRI). Attached as Exhibit M is a copy of a portion of that purchase agreement, showing an overall purchase price of $1,101,148.50. Exhibit M shows that, on or about the date of the asset purchase agreement, WNTRI paid $107,011.50 in cash to ACC, with the remainder of the purchase price – $994,137.00 – to be paid by WNTRI at closing.
Paragraph 2.2 of section 2, on page 3 of Exhibit H, states that the remainder of the purchase price being paid to ACC would relieve ACC from any and all liability on nine promissory notes made by ACC. Attached and marked as Exhibit N is a copy of an ownership report for WNTRI filed with the FCC. Exhibit N shows McCotter as the largest stockholder of WNTRI. It should also be noted that all of the other listed officers and shareholders (Rogers Kirven, Roland Ripamonti, Robert Ripamonti, and Rosanna Ripamonti) were GCI members at the time. Source number 4, a former employee of ACC who was instrumental in working out the purchase of radio station WNTR by ACC, has told Operations that McCotter was the final authority for all business decisions made by Add and GCI.
Source number 4 reports that McCotter financed the purchase of WNTR with money borrowed from GCI member Michael Etchison and from the father of GCI member Catherine Wilder Cooper, one J. Welles Wilder, Jr. Specifically, Source 4 alleges that McCotter used his authority and position as spiritual leader of GCI to facilitate these and other loans made by GCI members to entities closely associated with McCotter.
Attached as Exhibit 0 are copies of the contracts for stock purchase by and between McCotter, Kirven, Etchison, and Wilder. Source number 4 believes that the money borrowed from Etchison and Wilder was used by McCotter to make the $107,011.50 payment to ACC recorded in Exhibit M. Source 4 alleges that WNTRI did not, at the time of closing, make the cash payment to ACC of $994,137.00 that would have released ACC from the nine promissory notes. Rather, according to Source 4, WNTRI simply assumed the nine promissory notes, contrary to the language of the contract. Source 4 believes that these promissory notes were by and between ACC and GCI or GCI members. Source 4 alleges that, because of McCotter’s standing within GCI as founder and leader, and because of his influence over GCI membership, little or no pressure was placed on McCotter to repay the nine promissory notes assumed from ACC.
Source 4 further says that these promissory notes may have been forgiven in their entirety, without consideration, by the time WNTRI sold radio station WNTR in December 1988. If so, this enabled McCotter to profit from the entire sale price of $1,600,000.00. Operations conducted an exhaustive search of FCC filings relative to GCI activities. Copies of the promissory notes were not submitted to the FCC by GCI or by WNTRI. FCC officials questioned about the missing promissory notes told Operations that they would not have required them to be included unless FCC employees examining the application suspected some irregularities. (FCC officials were unable to explain to Operations how it is that an examiner could come to suspect irregularities without first reviewing necessary supporting documents to the application, such as the promissory notes in this case.)
Exhibit O shows that the initial loans made by Etchison and Wilder were converted to stock in the McCotter/Kirvan controlled company WITH of Baltimore, Inc. (WITHI), owner of radio station WITH. Attached as Exhibit P is a copy of an FCC ownership report for WITH!, showing McCotter as President and largest stockholder. Operations’ Source number 4 alleges that McCotter, Kirven, and Source 4 used a GCI-owned aircraft in mid-1986 to fly to North Carolina and meet with J. Welles Wilder, Jr. Specifically, Source 4 alleges that, in direct violation of laws governing tax exempt organizations – 501(C)3 – McCotter, Kirven, and Source 4 used a GCI asset, an airplane, to further the business interests of McCotter. Source 4 further alleges that the predetermined intention of the trip was actively to seek the financial participation of J. Welles Wilder, Jr., in the purchase of radio station WNTR, and that to the best of Source’s knowledge, at no time on this trip did Source, McCotter, or Kirven discuss GCI’s non-profit tax-exempt activities.
(Operations contacted the FAA Aircraft Registration Office in Oklahoma City, OK. FAA Supervisor Mr. Les Dunlop advised Operations that, during the years 1985 and 1986, GCI owned a Piper PA-31P 350 type aircraft, serial number 31P-8414010, registration number N9220Y. Source 4 alleges that on numerous occasions McCotter used the GCI aircraft for personal business and recreation.)
Source 4 alleges to Operations that money donated to GCI by GCI members was diverted to and used by ACC. Specifically, Source 4 alleges that, sometime in the first or second quarter of 1986, GCI member Billy Ribar made a donation in the form of a $30,000.00 check made out to GCI. Source 4 says that this money went into an ACC account rather than to GCI.
On or about March 7, 1985, GCI incorporated Best Deal, Inc. (BDI), as a wholly owned for-profit company. A copy of BDI’s latest annual report is attached as Exhibit Q. Information developed by Operations indicates that GCI used BDI to acquire assets of radio station WWCN in Albany, New York. In what can only be described as a confusing and protracted investment, BDI purchased a series of promissory notes, secured by real estate and radio station assets, from companies and banks involved with radio station WWCN. On or about February 1, 1985, Northeastern Communications, Inc. (Northeastern), purchased radio station WWCN from Devine Broadcasting Corp. (Devine). Attached as Exhibits R and S are the histories of the Citibank and Small Business Administration promissory notes. Exhibits R and S are from and [sic] FCC filing dated April 28, 1987, by Team One Radio, Inc. (Team One).
Attached as Exhibit T is a copy of an asset purchase agreement by and between BDI and GCI. Exhibit T is from the above referenced Team One FCC filing. It indicates that BDI gave the promissory notes outlined in Exhibit 5, and right and title to the trade name Alpha Capital used by BDI, to GCI in exchange for $120,000 cash and forgiveness of $122,371.28 in loans to BDI by GCI. Exhibit I shows that Alpha Capital Corporation was incorporated two days after it was purchased by GCI from BDI.
Attached as Exhibit U is a copy of GCI affiliate descriptions from the Team One FCC filing dated April 28, 1987. Paragraph 3 of Exhibit U indiates [sic] that GCI sold BDI to two of its employees on December 31, 1986. Exhibit Q indicates that the officers of BDI in 1987 were John R. Hawkins as President and A. Raymond Namie as Vice President. Operations believes these were the two employees to whom BDI was sold.
On or about May 22, 1986, Northeastern entered into a purchase agreement with Team One to sell radio station WWCN. As part of the terms of the agreement, GCI was paid the principal and interest of the promissory notes it held. Because GCI had for some time contested the value being placed on the notes, they agreed to enter into arbitration with Northeastern. Because of this arbitration agreement, the remainder of the purchase price, several hundred thousand dollars, has been placed in escrow. Operations was advised by Carol Keene, a principal in Northeastern, that shortly before arbitration was to commence, GCI/McCotter withdrew and filed a lawsuit in district court in Albany, New York. Ms. Keene advises that this litigation is still underway [i.e., at the time of this report – LAP].
On or about April 14, 1987, McCotter, though his company known as Profit Group, Inc. (Profit), entered into an asset purchase agreement with Robinson Communications of Baltimore, Maryland (Robinson), to acquire radio station WITH in Baltimore. A copy of a portion of that asset purchase agreement is attached as Exhibit V. Attached as Exhibit W is a copy of an assignment agreement by and between Profit and WITH of Baltimore, Inc. (WITHI). Exhibit W indicates that Profit conveyed to WITHI its interest in radio station WITH for unspecified consideration. Interestingly, Exhibit W was executed on the same day as Exhibit V. Attached as Exhibit X is a copy of a Florida Secretary of State Corporations Division printout and FCC documents, both showing McCotter and Kirven as officers of Profit Group, Inc. The FCC documents also indicate that McCotter and Kirven are the only two shareholders, with McCotter having a majority interest in the company.
Exhibit P shows McCotter as President and majority stockholder of WITHI. Paragraph 2 of Exhibit O indicates that Roland and Rosanna Ripamonti loaned McCotter the money to purchase radio station WITH. (The Ripamontis are two of three siblings, wealthy inheritors of a fortune estimated at forty million dollars, GCI members and apparently a major financial resource for McCotter.)
As soon as McCotter moved from Maryland to Florida, he continued his acquisitions of media outlets. In November 1987, McCotter’s Profit Group purchased the Florida Network from Susquehanna Broadcasting Co. The Florida Network distributed news shows and sports programs to sixty radio station affiliates in Florida. McCotter subsequently changed the name to Florida Radio Network. Source 3 advised Operations that the purchase price for Florida Radio Network, Inc., was $800,000. Source 3 further claimed to be aware of two loans by the Ripamonti family to the Profit Group, Inc., for the purchase of Florida Radio Network, Inc., in the amounts of $200,000 and $45,000. Attached as Exhibit EE is a copy of a subsequent amendment to the Articles of Incorporation of Florida Radio Network, Inc., changing its name to Profit Group, Inc. This document, executed on May 15, 1989, shows McCotter and Kirven as the only directors of the corporation. Operations has learned that the Florida Radio Network has recently been sold for an undisclosed price to Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network.
On or about March 11, 1988, McCotter and Kirven entered into an asset purchase agreement with Charles and Diane Harder to buy Sun Radio Network Corp. (Sun Radio). Harder later sued McCotter in an action currently before Hilisborough County Circuit Court in Florida. Harder’s filing indicates that McCotter agreed to purchase a sixty percent interest in Sun Radio for $250,000. Harder’s complaint states that McCotter and Kirven, after making an initial $100,000 payment, failed to abide by the provisions of the asset purchase agreement. Specifically, Harder alleges that McCotter failed to pay the bill for satellite time and caused Sun Radio to default on its contract with the satellite vendor, leaving over forty affiliate stations unable to receive Sun Radio programs.
Harder’s complaint further alleges that McCotter and Kirven diverted monies from Sun Radio bank accounts to Florida Radio Network bank accounts. Harder told Operations in a telephone interview that he believed McCotter’s intention all along was to buy into Sun Radio, then systematically transfer its assets to Florida Radio Network, Inc., taking Sun Radio’s affiliate stations as well. A copy of Harder’s complaint is attached as Exhibit FF.
Attached as Exhibit CC is an interview of McCotter done by one of his Florida newspapers. The story identifies McCotter as President of Sun Newspaper Group, Inc.
Attached as Exhibit HH is a copy of the authorization to transact business in Florida for Capital Advancement, Inc. Exhibit HH shows McCotter as President and Kirven as Vice President, with Roland and Rosanna Ripamonti as officers in the company.
Attached as Exhibit JJ are the Articles of Incorporation and 1990 Annual Report for Etchison Enterprises, Ltd., Inc. Exhibit JJ, page 4, shows that the company has changed its name to Twoson Group, Inc. Exhibit JJ also shows Rogers Kirven as President. (Kirven has told Operations Source number 11 that he and McCotter have parted company amicably after a financial settlement.)
Due to constraints on time and budget, Operations has not conducted an in-depth analysis of McCotter’s Florida operations, which as the above summary makes clear, manifest the complexity and confusion (to outsiders) that characterize most GCI/McCotter undertakings. Operations does believe that McCotter’s current and ongoing business associations with GCI and GCI members deserve further evaluation. In particular, Source 11 tells Operations that GCI/McCotter’s association, through Alpha Capital Corp., with the now defunct Barfield Industries, Inc., warrants further investigation. Attached as Exhibit KK are the Articles of Incorporation and a computerized printout from the Florida Secretary of State’s office, showing that Barfield Industries, Inc., has been involuntarily dissolved.
GCI/McCOTTER AND MONEY
How much money has GCI/McCotter taken in, and what has been done with that money? A definitive answer to these questions is impossible within the current investigation, especially given GCI/McCotter’s secretiveness and its tax-exempt status which limits financial accountability. It seems obvious, however, the GCI and its related enterprises have been a money machine, reliably generating large amounts of cash each year. The most visible uses of GCI/McCotter money have been in the accumulation of media outlets under McCotter’s personal control, and in the fine lifestyles led by a few top GCI leaders. Not visible has been any large financial commitment to the religious activities of this self-styled religious organization. GCI has built no church buildings or facilities [i.e., as of the date of this report – LAP]. Its religious education efforts are visible mainly in publications for which GCI charges. GCI/McCotter has not noticeably invested in charitable or other humanitarian efforts.
GCI/McCotter has had four apparent sources of income: (1) the sale of subscriptions, books, and other items; (2) tithing by GCI members; (3) loans to GCI/McCotter enterprises by GCI members or relatives; and (4) profits generated by media ownership and the buying and selling of media outlets. Examples of the last of these income-producing activities have been partly detailed above. As for subscriptions, sales of educational materials, and tithing, these would seem to be sources of large amounts of money in cash. Former members have reported that members are pressured to purchase church publications, and that tithing of at least ten percent of income is a religious duty enforced by GCI elders. (Indeed, members are supposed to support GCI to the limit of their abilities.) Exact membership figures, like much else, are difficult to determine. Jerry Paul MacDonald, in his article marked as Exhibit A, reports that, as early as 1973, nearly one thousand persons attended a GCI conference. By the mid-1970’s, says MacDonald, the movement had five thousand “workers.” The group’s largest growth apparently came after that time. Given GCI’s recent claim of seventy-six affiliated congregations, and the fact that the Silver Spring group has had up to 800 members, the likely income from tithing is substantial indeed. Source 11 told Operations that one Florida church was sending about three thousand dollars a week to GCI headquarters between 1984 and 1986.
Exhibit LL provides one example of ambiguities involved in GCI fund raising through publications. This exhibit advertises a study manual written by McCotter and other GCI elders. The cost is $5.00: the money is to be sent to Power Publications at a Gainesville, Florida, post office box. The Florida Division of Corporations has reported to Operations (Exhibit MM) that they know of no company named Power Publications. Postal Service records dating back to 1983 indicate that the post office box for “Power Publications” was rented by Rick Whitney, a longtime GCI member, under the name Campus Bible Church. Source 11 identified Campus Bible Church as an offshoot of the GCI church in Gainesville. What cannot be known is how much money “Power Publications” collected or what happened to that money.
A similar situation existed with “Americans for Biblical Action”, the political entity associated with GCI in 1986. Exhibit BB shows that an “annual commitment fee” of $17.76 was to be sent to ABG’s Hyattsville, Maryland, address. ABG was not incorporated in Maryland, nor was it recognized as tax exempt. Again it is unclear how much money was collected, whether it was collected legally, and where it went.
Legal records show that some GCI media acquisitions were financed in part with loans from wealthy GCI members or their relatives. Prominent lenders were C. Welles Wilder, Jr., father of a GCI member, and the Ripamonti family, three siblings whose father was president of the Italian Stock Exchange and whose inheritance has been estimated at forty million dollars. Exhibit II shows an unsigned term loan note for $700,000, between Roland Ripamonti and the McCotter-associated WITH of Baltimore, Inc. Operations does not know if this document was executed; but it does show that McCotter and Kirven believed that a loan of this size was within Roland Ripamonti’s means. James McCotter has lived very comfortably for many years since he told an Iowa newspaper that his only income was money mailed anonymously to him or left on his doorstep by followers. An indication that GCI/McCotter leaders may be uneasy about living fine lifestyles while demanding financial sacrifices from followers is provided by a bit of GCI folklore. Four sources reported separately to Operations that McCotter had received a million-dollar inheritance from his father. (Source number 6 also reported a belief that before he died McCotter’s father had bought the son a horse farm in Maryland.) Operations has investigated this account, starting with the obituary of Max E. McCotter – August 13, 1985 (Exhibit CC). The probate court for El Paso County, Colorado, reports that after checking as far back as 1964 it has found no will recorded for Max E. McCotter. (In Colorado a will must be filed with the probate court to be valid.) Whether or not the “million dollar bequest” story is accurate, its widespread currency within GCI suggests an attempt to justify the leader’s living beyond the reasonable means of a church official.
Has McCotter/GCI used illegal means in the pursuit of financial gain? As reported above, former members and other sources have made allegations concerning improper use of tax exempt status, of the transfer of “church” funds to private business dealings, and of misrepresentation in the obtaining of contributions, loans or other monies. Other allegations have been made in the course of litigation against GCI/McCotter. The archival record of GCI/McCotter’s financial transactions shows a number of oddities which may or may not signal irregularities in the transactions. Operations believes these matters warrant further investigation.
A larger question, however, goes beyond the legal to the moral and ethical. Have the religious followers of GCI/McCotter made informed decisions about their contributions? Have they received honest information about the uses to which contributions have been put? Has McCotter used his role as spiritual leader of a “religious” organization to obtain a personal fortune? Has misrepresentation or undue influence – even mind control, as has been alleged – been employed by GCI/McCotter in the pursuit of power over members and their finances? The present investigation cannot answer these questions. But it can indicate that the questions are valid.
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