AP IMPACT: Tragedy meant big money for NY minister

By David B. Caruso

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Sept. 24 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

"It must be underscored that Carl Keyes is an internationally recognized humanitarian who has spent the past 30 years helping others in crisis," she wrote in an earlier letter. "He has worked with many presidents and prime ministers around the world to help ease the suffering of their people."


There is no question that Keyes has thrown himself into relief work.

Yet in promoting himself as a globe-trotting Samaritan, Keyes embellished his exploits and took credit for others' labor, according to several people who worked on relief efforts in lower Manhattan.

After 9/11, his charity provided food, water and counseling for recovery workers. But a priest disputed Keyes' colorful stories about breaking into locked churches for shelter near ground zero.

And in response to AP's questions about a claim that his ground zero soup kitchen had attracted celebrity volunteers like Jerry Seinfeld and actress Susan Sarandon, Keyes acknowledged that they never worked with him.

When Hurricane Katrina struck four years later, Keyes did drive to Mississippi to set up a massive volunteer operation and to help distribute supplies.

But Keyes has yet to account for how his organization raised and spent money on the Gulf Coast — more than $800,000 by one estimate.

For a decade, Keyes operated his Urban Life Ministries charity without filing the required state and federal reports showing how much money it received and spent, an AP examination of official records found. The IRS last year stripped the charity of its tax-exempt status because Keyes failed to submit annual financial disclosures to verify that the money had been used for charitable purposes.

Keyes ran Aid for the World, which boasted of operating anti-poverty programs in the U.S. and on several continents, for more than three years without disclosing its finances as required. That meant there was no accounting of the charity's biggest event, a black-tie fundraiser featuring former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. The charity only recently recorded more than a half-million dollars in fundraising expenses for 2009; a significant portion of the money was spent on the Powell event.

Only after the AP contacted Keyes was an accountant hired to review his charities' finances over the past decade and to file all the required tax disclosure forms.

For Keyes, it's always been about the good works he can do through a selfless ministry, his supporters say.

"He was and remains a tremendous source of strength for those in need," Mike Martelli, a retired New York City police officer, wrote in a letter vouching for Keyes. Their 9/11 volunteer work was featured in a 2006 documentary, "The Cross and the Towers."

Good works aside, it is the way Keyes has handled millions of dollars entrusted to him and the benefits that he, his church and others received that has led his own accountants to accuse him of self-dealing and forgery — accusations that have followed him since his early days as an Assemblies of God minister.


Before he became known for disaster relief, Keyes says he endured a troubled youth, struggling with an abusive father and his own violent nature.

"I have been looking for a fight my whole life," Keyes, a stout man with longish, graying hair, said in a December 2007 sermon. "People would give me a dollar just to see me punch some guy, and I would do it."

Born in 1956, Keyes spent much of his life in New Jersey's middle-class neighborhoods. By the late 1970s, he was organizing Ultimate Frisbee and other youth sports in a part-time job in Ocean City, a family-friendly Jersey beach town. That's where Keyes met Donna Jones, another recreation department employee who would marry him and later serve as his co-pastor.

Keyes also describes a dark side — drug use when he was still in Little League and a life of crime by his early 20s. Jesus came later, he says, after the threat of prison time.

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