On Tuesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced charges against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Mormon church, and its nonprofit investment arm, Ensign Peak Advisers Inc., alleging they took measures to conceal the church’s considerable investments, including creating shell companies with office addresses.
The SEC declared that the church and Ensign Peak would pay $5 million to settle the charges jointly. It was noted in 2018 that their equity investments were valued at roughly $32 billion, yet an ex-church investment manager asserted in a 2019 IRS complaint that they had accumulated around $100 billion worth of stocks, bonds, and cash.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Ensign Peak allegedly failed to follow the SEC’s requirements for disclosure regarding its total equity holdings. To conceal their information, 13 shell companies were created with approval from the church and investment documents divided among them – all under Ensign’s control. Signatures on those documents belonged mostly to managers employed by the church itself.
The SEC has described the church’s activities as fraud and decided to impose a minor civil penalty relative to the size of the church’s resources. The settlement follows the efforts by a whistleblower, former Ensign Peak investment manager David A. Nielsen, to hold the church accountable for how it uses its members’ donations.
In an IRS whistleblower report, Nielsen exposed that the Church’s stockpiling of $100 billion in funds instead of allocating them towards charitable intentions could breach tax laws. Mormons are obligated to donate 10% of their income to the church, and Nielsen believed much of those contributions were managed by Ensign Peak investors.
The reported claims provoked widespread criticism of the church’s alleged money hoarding and their requests for donations from cash-strapped families. Conversely, others have commended the church’s success as prudent financial stewardship. Church leaders contended that these criticisms were “grounded on a restricted outlook and limited knowledge.”