Charity funds luxury lifestyle for its founder, a Baptist leader
Over three years, Bishop Eddie Long got $3.07 million from the charity.
LITHONIA, Ga. (AP) -- Bishop Eddie Long, whose 25,000-member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church is said to be Georgia's largest congregation, used money from a charity he started to fund a grand lifestyle, according to a published report.
Tax records detailed in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed Bishop Eddie Long Ministries Inc. gave Long $3.07 million in salary and benefits between 1997 and 2000, compared with $3.1 million in donations to others.
Benefits he received included a $1.4 million 20-acre home and use of a $350,000 Bentley. Long maintains the money came from royalties, speaking fees and several large donations -- not from members of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, where he became pastor in 1987.
Long's tax attorney, J. David Epstein, said the charity's compensation committee decided to use some of the charity's assets to pay Long for his work at New Birth to make up for years when he was underpaid.
The charity, separate from the congregation, stopped operating in 2000. Long and wife Vanessa were two of its four board members.
Long said he represents a "paradigm shift" in the black church, and complaints stem from expectations that pastors should be poor. "I'm not going to apologize for anything," he said.
Nonprofits are exempt from state and federal income taxes if they meet certain criteria, but federal law says executives' benefits may not be excessive.