Fiery preacher a divorce court no-show
The Antichrist is on the lam.
Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda, the Doral-based church leader who first claimed to be Christ, then the Antichrist, disappeared after he was declared in contempt of court for failure to pay alimony to his soon-to-be ex-wife. Their divorce trial went ahead without him this week, with wife Josefina de Jesus Torres alleging abuse, abandonment and infidelity.
She’s seeking half of both the Growing in Grace church assets and his personal property, which her attorneys argue are the same because they claim de Jesus controls the church’s finances.
Torres’ number: $2.2 million.
Miami civil court Judge Roberto Pineiro, who is presiding over the case, had ordered de Jesus to pay up or surrender to authorities by Aug. 6 after he failed to pay five months of alimony — more than $72,000 — to Torres.
De Jesus’ attorney, Gregory Betancourt, told The Miami Herald that Torres’ accusations of mistreatment are part of a gold-digging legal strategy.
De Jesus ”categorically denies all those claims,” Betancourt said, adding that he has not spoken to his client for more than two weeks. ”She just wants to obtain as much money as she possibly can,” Betancourt said.
The three-day divorce trial ended on Friday, and Pineiro asked both lawyers to submit settlement proposals within three weeks, after which he will rule.
The Growing in Grace empire, which has spread to 300 churches in more than 30 countries, attained international notoriety in the past two years after de Jesus declared himself to be Jesus Christ. De Jesus, 62, later claimed the title of Antichrist because, he argued, as he is the Second Coming, his teachings supersede those of Jesus. He and other followers got ”666” tattoos to illustrate their devotion.
Testimony in his divorce case ranged from the spiritual — with one church leader explaining why he now considers de Jesus to be God — to the sordid, with Torres claiming that during their marriage de Jesus cast her off for another woman in Houston — a woman his inner circle now calls his “wife.”
Torres, 45, also claimed he pushed her against a fence on one occasion and emotionally abused her by threatening to send ”angels of destruction” to her and her children.
”He didn’t hit me, but in my mind he destroyed me,” she said. “In that moment, I believed he was chosen by God with power over angels.”
Betancourt and church board members say that the church’s wealth is far less than Torres’ legal team claims and that as a nonprofit religious institution, it should not be considered his property. They also say donations have dropped since the start of the divorce proceedings — along with its revelations about de Jesus’ financial situation, including the annual $144,000 alimony he is paying to his first wife and the $15,000 monthly alimony he has been ordered to pay Torres.
De Jesus’ daughter, JoAnn de Jesus, the ministry’s finance manager, testified that because of the drop in donations, the church is two months behind on the rent at its Doral headquarters and she is hoping for ”a miracle” that will allow them to stay. Several church members implied that Torres’ statements criticizing de Jesus in the press played a role in the financial problems.
Betancourt highlighted de Jesus’ other financial difficulties, including possible tax penalties de Jesus faces after the divorce court revelations about his finances, which include using charitable donations to pay alimony to his first wife and to purchase properties in his and his relatives’ names.
De Jesus’ tax attorney testified that, based on his interactions with an Internal Revenue Service investigator, he believes a fraud investigation is under way. A spokeswoman for the IRS said she could not confirm or deny the existence of an inquiry.
The interactions outside the courtroom also have grown increasingly nasty over the course of the divorce case. The Growing in Grace press team recently sent e-mails to reporters with links to video interviews with a woman who claims she was Torres’ lesbian lover when Torres met de Jesus. The Colombian woman, Maria Teresa Charry, said Torres set out to entrap de Jesus and take his money, a sentiment echoed among his followers.
Segall said he hasn’t seen the video but said it is another attempt by the church to discredit Torres.
”They’re trying to pin the alleged fact that the church is not doing as well on her, when everyone knows that isn’t true,” he said.
Theologically, Creciendo en Gracia (Growing in Grace) is a cult of Christianity. This term is used of a group or organization whose central teachings and/or practices are claimed to be biblical, but which are in fact unbiblical.
‘Jesus Christ Man’ faces flock — and divorce (Photo gallery at the Miami Herald)
Aug. 23, 2008 News Summary