ORLANDO — Faith healer Benny Hinn has gone to court to block his former security chief from disclosing financial secrets that an adviser says could destroy the television ministry.
The security chief, Mario Licciardello, is reportedly demanding money to keep silent about what he knows about allegations of theft and corruption at Hinn’s Orlando-based World Outreach Center.
Licciardello, 50, is under a federal court order to say nothing for the time being.
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Hinn’s church sought the court order last month. Church lawyers claimed in a lawsuit filed last month that Licciardello had written a five-page letter outlining information he might reveal.
Hinn hired Licciardello, a private investigator, last year to investigate accusations of wrongdoing and corruption regarding the handling of money sent to the church and raised during international faith healing crusades, according to the lawsuit.
”Pastor has heard these rumors and has no proof they are true,” David Brokaw, a spokes-man for Hinn, told The Orlando Sentinel.
Licciardello conducted sworn interviews with 35 former and current employees. The church demanded that Licciardello turn over transcripts of those interviews as well as notes of his conversations with Hinn and extensive dossiers compiled by the church on the personal lives of former employees.
The dossiers contain more than 700 pages of addresses, licenses, weapons permits, marriage records, property tax rolls and accident reports.
The dispute with Licciardello began in September when he accused church officials of destroying his reputation by conducting a background check. He agreed to a routine security check, as is required of all 360 employees of World Outreach Church.
An investigator gained access to old arrest records that Licciardello thought had been expunged, according to the lawsuit. The old court papers showed Licciardello had been arrested in 1967 in New Jersey and convicted of burglary and theft. He received a pardon but he may have served time in prison, the report said.
Outraged over the disclosure, Licciardello demanded an undisclosed amount of money for his damaged reputation or he would tell the media what he knew about Hinn’s business, according to the lawsuit.
Based on missing documents and interviews, Licciardello’s allegations would be devastating to the ministry, according to the sworn affidavit of Hinn’s chief financial adviser, Tim Lavender.
The ministry could lose 30 percent of its revenues immediately and potentially lose up to 90 percent of its revenue further down the road, Lavender said in the affidavit.
The church is expected to raise $60 million in donations this year, up from $50 million in 1997, Brokaw said. The ministry made $35 million in 1996.
Church administrators haven’t reported any suspected crimes to local law enforcement. Brokaw said nothing was reported because church officials never thought any money was taken.
”There was no theft or corruption,” he said.
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