Megachurches are often scams. Their owners and preachers become obscenely wealthy and don't have to pay taxes. And a remarkably huge percentage of megachurch leaders become ensnared in ethically dubious (at best) conduct: Ultra-rich Houston pastor Joel Osteen infamously neglected to open his megachurch to Hurricane Harvey victims for days after the storm hit earlier this year.
But Osteen pales in comparison to Florida megachurch figureheads such as Bob Coy, the former Fort Lauderdale religious leader. Coy resigned from his 25,000-member Calvary Chapel in 2014 after a sex-scandal, but the church continued in business. This week, New Times outed Coy an accused child molester.
Shady priests are part of South Florida's culture. Here's a rundown of some other major culprits, (from past New Times issues if not otherwise noted):
Tullian Tchividjian, grandson of Billy Graham and pastor at Fort Lauderdale megachurch Coral Ridge Presbyterian, resigned from his pulpit after admitting to an affair in 2015.
Aside from being known as Billy Graham's grandkid, Tchividjian — who has been married since 1994 and has three children with his wife, Kim — is also nephew to Franklin Graham, who famously blamed the ills of the world on homosexuality and recently blamed the Charleston shootings on Hollywood.
In a statement released to the Washington Post, Tchividjian revealed that he had discovered that his wife had been having an affair. The statement goes on to say that he sought comfort from a friend, whom he eventually also became intimately involved with.
“I resigned from my position at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church today due to ongoing marital issues. As many of you know, I returned from a trip a few months back and discovered that my wife was having an affair. Heartbroken and devastated, I informed our church leadership and requested a sabbatical to focus exclusively on my marriage and family. As her affair continued, we separated. Sadly and embarrassingly, I subsequently sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship myself."
Tchividjian went on to say that he was confronted by leaders of Coral Ridge Presbyterian and decided it would be best if he resigned
2. Fort Lauderdale's Robert Tilton AKA "the Farting Preacher" AKA Accused Fraudster Robert Tilton
Tilton rose to fame in Dallas, but later moved to Fort Lauderdale in the 1990s and formed a church there:
Then came November 21, 1991. On that evening, ABC's PrimeTime Live aired the findings of a six-month investigation into the ministries of Tilton and two other TV preachers, W.V. Grant and Larry Lea.
The segment on Tilton was by far the most damning. At its heart was the accusation that Tilton never saw the vast majority of prayer requests and personal correspondence sent to him by faithful viewers. On the air Tilton promised to pray over each individual miracle plea. But on the ground ABC said it found thousands of those requests dumped in garbage bins in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Checks, money orders, and in some cases cash, food stamps, and even wedding rings sent by followers had been removed for deposit at a nearby bank.
Tilton and his lawyer claimed the Dumpster documents had been stolen by enemies of the church and then planted in the trash.
Within weeks the first of a dozen lawsuits had been filed by outraged followers. One of the plaintiffs, Mary Turk, said she had avoided seeking medical treatment for colon cancer because she believed doing so would indicate a breach of faith in God. Meanwhile, reporters from a local TV station in Oklahoma claimed to have discovered thousands more Tilton prayer requests at a recycling plant. The requests were promptly impounded by the U.S. attorney's office. Tilton repeated his claim that the trashed prayer pleas were part of a plot against the church.
Texas attorney general Dan Morales launched a fraud investigation of Tilton's ministry, and the FBI and U.S. Postal Service subpoenaed the church's records the day after the ABC broadcast. Over the ensuing months, Tilton called Morales "a flea." Morales countered that Tilton was "raping the most vulnerable segments of our society — the poor, the infirm, the ignorant ... who believe his garbage."
He'll also go down in history as this guy, which is fitting, karmic justice:
The priest whom former Rep. Mark Foley has accused of molesting him when he was a teen could face sanctions, the Miami Archdiocese said Friday while offering the embattled ex-congressman an apology for the priest's "morally reprehensible" behavior.
The Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office identified Foley's alleged abuser as Father Anthony Mercieca, the archdiocese said in a written statement.
Sources close to the investigation previously told CNN that Foley named Mercieca as his alleged abuser.
The statement said Mercieca, who worked in the archdiocese from the mid-1960s through the early 2000s, could face ecclesiastical sanctions.
"John Favalora, archbishop of Miami, is withdrawing Father Mercieca's faculties," the archdiocese said.
"The Archdiocese of Miami is distressed by the revelations disclosed by Father Mercieca regarding former Representative Mark Foley. Such behavior is morally reprehensible, canonically criminal and inexcusable," the statement says.
"An apology is due to Mr. Foley for the hurt he has experienced. While it was long in coming, with God's merciful grace this painful revelation can be the beginning of reconciliation and an instrument of redemption and healing for Mr. Foley."
On Thursday, Mercieca told CNN that he fondled the lawmaker as a teen, but he said it wasn't abuse because Foley "seemed to like it."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
From the outside, the group seemed good for the neighborhoods where they settled. Followers helped Yahweh renovate dilapidated homes, open grocery stores, and start clinics. But Mitchell changed. He proclaimed himself the Messiah and gathered a "Circle of 10" — a muscled group of followers armed with six-foot wooden "staffs of life" that were used to beat dissidents. He began controlling every aspect of his devotees' lives.
Inside the Temple of Love, worshippers slept on hard beds with no mattresses and were often limited to one daily meal of rice, beans, and water; women "shared" husbands, who could have sex only in a communal "conjugal room" with Yahweh's permission; they all worked 18-hour days for no pay in the cult's printing shops, stores, and offices. "You had to dedicate your life totally to Yahweh," Ricardo later testified.
Beginning as early as 1981, for a select group called his "Death Angels," that dedication included torture and murder. A follower named Aston Green who argued with Yahweh was beaten to a bloody pulp until semiconscious and then driven into the Everglades and slowly decapitated with a dull machete.
Two years later, a karate champ from Louisiana named Leonard Dupree was cracked over the head with a tire iron, kicked in the groin, and gored through the eyes with a sharpened stick.
White drifters were regularly killed as an initiation rite and their ears given to Yahweh as trophies, witnesses would later testify.
By the end of that harrowing call on August 20, 2015, police knew the accused predator was no ordinary suspect. His name was Bob Coy, and until the previous year, he'd been the most famous Evangelical pastor in Florida.
Over two decades, Coy had built a small storefront church into Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, a 25,000-member powerhouse that packed Dolphin Stadium for Easter services while Coy hosted everyone from George W. Bush to Benjamin Netanyahu. With a sitcom dad's wholesome looks, a standup comedian's snappy timing, and an unlikely redemption tale of ditching a career managing Vegas strip clubs to find Jesus, Coy had become a Christian TV and radio superstar.
But then, in April 2014, he resigned in disgrace after admitting to multiple affairs and a pornography addiction. Coy shocked his flock and made national headlines by walking away from his ministry, selling his house, and divorcing his wife.
The sexual assault claims, which have never before been divulged, raise new questions about the pastor, his church, and the police who handled the case. Documents show that Coral Springs cops sat on the accusations for months before dropping the inquiry without even interviewing Coy. His attorneys, meanwhile, persuaded a judge with deep Republican ties to seal the ex-pastor's divorce file to protect Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale from scrutiny.