The latest in the nuclear family warfare surrounding the Trinity Broadcasting Network: A photograph entered into the court record of what appears to be Jan Crouch, her head tossed back in ecstasy, showing off a letter that is alleged to have been written by her husband, Paul, on what was assumed to be his deathbed.
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In this letter, according to documents filed in Orange County Superior Court, the ailing Paul Crouch Sr. decided who would lead the Trinity empire after he was gone. It would not be his namesake, son Paul Crouch Jr. - but another son, Matthew Crouch.
"The photo was taken by Matthew Crouch in mid September 2011 while Paul Crouch Sr. was in the hospital suffering from congestive heart failure," says the declaration of Michael Koper. "Apparently, Matthew Crouch and Jan Crouch were celebrating what they believed was Paul Crouch Sr.'s impending death and Matthew Crouch's promotion to President of TBN that would subsequently occur."
Paul Crouch Sr. didn't die. But Matthew Crouch is now in charge of Trinity's day-to-day operations, while brother Paul Crouch Jr. and his entire family have been ousted from the Trinity empire.
Perhaps not coincidentally, both of Paul Crouch Jr.'s daughters - Brittany Crouch Koper and Carra Crouch - are suing Trinity. Brittany Koper has accused the mighty Christian broadcaster of playing fast and loose with the ministry's millions, and provided internal documents to back up her claims. Carra Crouch alleges that she was plied with alcohol and raped by a TBN employee in Atlanta when she was just 13 - and that her family covered up the incident, rather than report it to authorities, to protect TBN's reputation.
Trinity says it's all untrue - and accused the Kopers of engaging in an inflammatory smear campaign to divert attention from their own financial sins against Trinity. Trinity has filed a half-dozen suits against Brittany and Michael Koper, charging them with stealing some $1.3 million during their years of employ - as well as a trove of privileged documents that they're inserting into the court record in "dribs and drabs" in an attempt to blackmail and destroy the network.
The Kopers are "revealing in distorted fashion confidential client files and ... publishing their contents recklessly in this action to the media as part of a 'hush money' extortion campaign against TBN," Trinity said in court filings.
"Unless restrained from further disclosure, TBN will be irreparably damaged and with no adequate remedy at law. There are no monetary damages which could compensate Plaintiffs for the disclosure of confidential and privileged information. Once the Kopers make a disclosure of such sensitive information, there is no means to 'un-ring the bell' of disclosure of confidential and privileged information, and no measure of damages that can be readily ascertained."
The Kopers, in their turn, say they have stolen nothing and are just trying to get the truth out so Trinity's ministry can be steered back on course. The parties are battling that out in federal court, where a judge recently threatened to brand Trinity a "vexatious litigant" for the prodigiousness of its legal maneuverings against the Kopers.
But Carra Crouch's case - alleging sexual battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence - is proceeding separately in Orange County Superior Court. Michael Koper, her brother-in-law and an attorney, had filed the original suit on her behalf. There are new lawyers on board now, and a case management conference is slated for November.
At stake, one might argue, is Trinity itself. It bills itself as the largest Christian broadcaster in the world, with 16 global television networks distributed on 76 satellites, multiple foreign and domestic affiliates, and thousands of cable affiliates on every continent save Antarctica. Subscribing to the "Have a need? Plant a seed" philosophy, its donors believe that sending money to the network will reap divine rewards later on. Trinity spent nearly $200 million in 2010, and it had amassed nearly $1 billion in net assets, according to its last tax return.
Some of the assertions could cast a cloud on Trinity's nonprofit, income-tax-exempt status - which could cost it tens of millions of dollars per year.