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AP IMPACT: Tragedy meant big money for NY minister

By David B. Caruso

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Sept. 24 2012 3:45 a.m. MDT

Urban Life Ministries' newly filed IRS forms also contain no trace of a $135,000 donation made by real estate agent Karen Dome, who helped Keyes sell Glad Tidings' church for $31 million on Dec. 31, 2007. Court documents and financial records indicate that Dome received a $1.39 million commission; she told the AP she regularly gives 10 percent of her commission to charity.

On Feb. 19, 2008, Cushworth, then Urban Life Ministries' accountant, emailed Keyes a resignation letter in which he accused the minister of using the Dome donation to pay off a second mortgage on a house Keyes owned in Manasquan, N.J., on the Jersey Shore.

"If the New York attorney general were to ever find out, then goodness knows the kind of trouble you and the church could be in, never mind the IRS or the feds," Cushworth wrote.

Dome told the AP she had given the money to the charity, not to Keyes, because she was impressed with its relief work.

The AP confirmed through public property records that the mortgage, which had a balance of $131,973, was discharged in early January 2008, but could not independently obtain records verifying Cushworth's claim that Urban Life Ministries' money was used to make that payment.

Polovetsky refused to answer questions about whether the charity had paid off Keyes' mortgage, other than to say that all transactions were approved by its executive board. She added that Cushworth "was subsequently fired for incompetence and should not be deemed credible."

CASHING OUT

When the dwindling congregation at Glad Tidings Tabernacle sold its big, crumbling Manhattan home in 2007, church leaders spent some of the $31 million on Keyes and a few of his supporters, according to real estate and other financial records.

The church gave Keyes $200,000 in back pay and distributed $670,000 in "tithes," according to a financial statement recently provided to the attorney general's office by the church. It didn't disclose the recipients, but other records obtained by the AP show that Abraham Fenton, a pastor who served on the Urban Life Ministries board, received $100,000. Don Barnett, another longtime Keyes friend who has served on boards of Keyes' two charities, had $35,965 paid to seven personal credit card accounts. "Thank you for lifting me up out of this pit," Barnett wrote in a note of gratitude.

Fenton said he later returned the money. Barnett did not return phone and email messages.

The Keyes family also bought a house. In December 2008, the church lent Keyes' wife $950,000 to buy an 18th century stone-and-clapboard house on seven wooded acres in Stockton, N.J., a Delaware River community about 70 miles southwest of New York City, property records show.

Seven months later, the loan was declared "paid or otherwise satisfied" and Donna Keyes owned the house outright, the records show. Three months after that, the Keyes couple used the house as collateral to borrow $520,000.

It isn't clear from public documents whether the Keyes family paid off the Glad Tidings loan, or if the church forgave the debt. Polovetsky declined to say.

She said the transaction had been approved by the church board, and that by living outside the city, the Keyes family had saved the church "a significant amount of money." One longtime Glad Tidings board member, Louis Delgado, confirmed that the board had wanted the Keyes family to enjoy a nice house, but said he understood the church would own the property, and that it would be available to future pastors.

After selling off its original church home in midtown, Glad Tidings paid $11.5 million for a town house in the chic Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan and began converting it into a place of worship, transaction records show. Glad Tidings began 2008 with $13.8 million in savings.

Three years later, the church told a court it owed contractors and others nearly $2 million, had only $180,484 left in cash, and needed to sell the Tribeca building.

Under New York law, church property sales require court approval.

In its recent disclosures to the attorney general's office, the church said it spent $8.7 million on the never-completed renovation, more than double the amount it had initially told a court it planned to spend.

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