Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fraudulent unemployment claims have been made at the instruction of church leaders in North Carolina, The Associated Press reports. Congregants of the Word of Faith Fellowship were instructed by church leaders to file unemployment claims on behalf of themselves and their employees so that they could continue tithing at rates mandated by the church.
One man reported “pleading” for a reduction to the amount he was required to tithe—10% of his income—as economic downturn threatened to ruin his business. Instead, he was instructed by the founder of the church, Jane Whaley, to commit unemployment fraud to support his monthly payments as part of “God’s plan.”
The church, which is based in North Carolina but also has branches in Brazil, Ghana, Scotland, and other countries, is under investigation for other abuses as well. Its leaders reportedly physically assaulted congregants, instructed them to lie to investigators, and exploited labor carried out by Brazilian congregants who were brought to the U.S.
The Department of Homeland Security and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation are investigating these claims, which could carry federal and state felony charges.