AP

Mormon church fined $5M for obscuring size of portfolio

Feb 21, 2023, 10:15 AM | Updated: Feb 22, 2023, 11:35 am

FILE - The angel Moroni statue atop the Salt Lake Temple is silhouetted against a cloud-covered sky...

FILE - The angel Moroni statue atop the Salt Lake Temple is silhouetted against a cloud-covered sky, at Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Feb. 6, 2013. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission says, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its investment arm will pay $5 million in fines. The SEC alleges the church used shell companies to obscure the size of the portfolio under the church's control.(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its investment arm have been fined $5 million for using shell companies to obscure the size of the portfolio under church control, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced Tuesday.

The faith, widely known as the Mormon church, maintains billions of dollars of investments in stocks, bonds, real estate and agriculture. Much of its portfolio is controlled by Ensign Peak Advisers, a nonprofit investment manager overseen by ecclesiastical leaders known as its presiding bishopric.

The church has agreed to pay $1 million and Ensign Peak will pay $4 million in penalties based on the violation.

Ensign Peak avoided disclosing investments “with the church’s knowledge,” denying the SEC and the public of accurate information required under law, Gurbir Grewal, the agency’s enforcement director, said in a statement.

Federal investigators said for a period of 22 years, the firm violated agency rules and the Securities Exchange Act by not filing paperwork required that disclosed the value of its assets.

Instead, they said Ensign Peak filed the forms through 13 shell companies they created, even as they maintained decision-making power. They also had “business managers,” most employed by the church, sign the required shell company filings.

“The Church was concerned that disclosure of its portfolio, which by 2018 grew to approximately $32 billion, would lead to negative consequences,” the SEC said in a statement announcing the charges.

Increasingly, the church and its Salt Lake City-based investment arm have faced scrutiny over the fact that tax law largely exempts religious groups from paying U.S. taxes. Ensign Peak is registered as a supporting organization and integrated auxiliary of the church. Investment managers of its size are required to report stockholdings quarterly.

It gained traction in 2019 when a whistleblower alleged the church had stockpiled nearly $100 billion in funds, rather than directing it toward charitable causes. Ensign Peak has since been a source of intrigue and mystery for the nearly 17-million member Utah-based faith, which encourages members worldwide to give 10% of their income in a what is known as “tithing.”

Two years later, prominent church member James Huntsman filed a lawsuit against the church alleging it misrepresented how it used donations and, rather than direct them to charitable causes, invested in assets including real estate and an insurance business. A judge dismissed the complaint last year and Huntsman later appealed the decision.

Earlier this month, the 2019 whistleblower, a former Ensign Peak investment manager named David Nielsen, submitted a 90-page memorandum to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee demanding oversight into the church’s finances.

In a statement, church officials said over the time period investigated, none of their holdings had gone unreported and all had been disclosed through the separate companies. They said they had “relied upon legal counsel regarding how to comply with its reporting obligations while attempting to maintain the privacy of the portfolio” and noted that Ensign Peak had changed its reporting approach after learning of the SEC’s concerns in 2019.

“We affirm our commitment to comply with the law, regret mistakes made, and now consider this matter closed,” they said.

Sam Brunson, a church member and tax law professor at Loyola University Chicago, said the $5 million fine differed from past accusations leveled against Ensign Peak because the church appears to have admitted some fault.

A failure to fill out SEC paperwork may not fuel broader conversations about how the church manages its money, he said, yet it reflects an “incredibly aggressive” strategy to keep certain information from the public.

“For the last 70 years or so, the Mormon Church has had an ethos of keeping its finances private,” Brunson said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Republican presidential candidates, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, left, talking with forme...

Associated Press

The GOP debate field was asked about Trump. But most of the stage’s attacks focused on Nikki Haley

The four Republican presidential candidates debating Wednesday night mostly targeted each other instead of Donald Trump.

4 days ago

Law enforcement officers head into the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, campus after reports of an ...

Associated Press

Police say 3 dead, fourth wounded and shooter also dead in University of Nevada, Las Vegas attack

Police said a suspect was found dead Wednesday as officers responded to an active shooter and reports of multiple victims at UNLV.

4 days ago

President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, leaves after a court appearance, July 26, 2023, in Wilming...

Associated Press

Republicans threaten contempt proceedings if Hunter Biden refuses to appear for deposition

House Republicans are threatening to hold Hunter Biden in contempt if he does not show up this month for a closed-door deposition.

4 days ago

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., listens to a question during a news conference, March 30, 2022, in W...

Associated Press

Tuberville is ending blockade of most military nominees, clearing way for hundreds to be approved

Sen. Tommy Tuberville announced Tuesday that he's ending his blockade of hundreds of military promotions, following heavy criticism.

5 days ago

An employee works inside the Hanwha Qcells Solar plant on Oct. 16, 2023, in Dalton, Ga. On Tuesday,...

Associated Press

US job openings fall to lowest level since March 2021 as labor market cools

U.S. employers posted 8.7 million job openings in October, the fewest since March 2021, in a sign that hiring is cooling.

5 days ago

Megyn Kelly poses at The Hollywood Reporter's 25th annual Women in Entertainment Breakfast, Dec. 7,...

Associated Press

The fourth GOP debate will be a key moment for the young NewsNation cable network

By airing the fourth Republican presidential debate, NewsNation network will almost certainly reach the largest audience in its history.

5 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Follow @iamdamonallred...

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

Follow @KTAR923...

The 2023 Diamondbacks are a good example to count on the underdog

The Arizona Diamondbacks made the World Series as a surprise. That they made the playoffs at all, got past the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card round, swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and won two road games in Philadelphia to close out a full seven-game NLCS went against every expectation. Now, […]

...

Desert Institute for Spine Care

Desert Institute for Spine Care (DISC) wants to help Valley residents address back, neck issues through awake spine surgery

As the weather begins to change, those with back issues can no longer rely on the dry heat to aid their backs. That's where DISC comes in.

Mormon church fined $5M for obscuring size of portfolio