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Son of prominent Utah philanthropist Jon Huntsman files lawsuit accusing Mormon Church of fraud

The son of a prominent Utah philanthropist has filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, charging the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with fraud.

James Huntsman, the brother of former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. and son of the late philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr., is demanding back millions he donated to the church over the course of decades, from 1993 to 2017.

He claims the LDS Church has spent tithes from members on commercial ventures, rather than the charitable purposes they’re earmarked for, including ‘missionary work, member indoctrination, temple work, and other educational and charitable activities.’

The commercial ventures Huntsman is referring to are Beneficial Life Insurance, an insurance company run by the church, and City Creek Center, a shopping mall in Salt Lake City partially run by the church.

The lawsuit claims $1.5 billion of donated funds was spent alone on the City Creek Mall, despite claims that tithing funds would not go to that development. 

James Huntsman (center) has filed a federal lawsuit against the LDS Church

James is the son of the late billionaire philanthropist, Jon Huntsman Sr. (pictured in 2007)

James is the son of the late billionaire philanthropist, Jon Huntsman Sr. (pictured in 2007)

He wants his money to go to people ‘marginalized by the Church’s teachings and doctrines,’ including charities that support LGBTQ groups, African-American communities, and women’s rights causes.

Mormons are required to tithe ten percent of their income to the church.

‘This is not a case about faith; it is a case about fraud and corporate greed,’ the lawsuit reads.

Huntsman is claiming that the damages in this case are in excess of $5 million. 

A spokesman for the Church told The Washington Post that Huntsman resigned as a member last year and that his claims are ‘baseless.’

‘Tithing funds are voluntary contributions,’ a statement from National Media Manager Eric Hawkins read. ‘They are used for a broad array of religious purposes, including missionary work, education, humanitarian causes and the construction of meetinghouses, temples and other buildings important in the work of the Church, as reflected in scripture and determined by Church leaders.’ 

Huntsman claims charitable donations given to the church helped fund the City Creek Center mall in Salt Lake City, to the tune of $1.5 billion

Huntsman claims charitable donations given to the church helped fund the City Creek Center mall in Salt Lake City, to the tune of $1.5 billion

James is the brother of Jon Huntsman Jr. (pictured), former governor of Utah

James is the brother of Jon Huntsman Jr. (pictured), former governor of Utah

In December 2019, a whistleblower filed a complaint to the IRS that the Church had $100 billion in accounts that were meant for charity and were using surplus tax-exempt donations to keep a pair of businesses afloat while misleading members.

That complaint came from David Nielsen, who was a high-level investment manager with the LDS Church.

The LDS Church is not in communication with the IRS about that complaint, which claimed Ensign Peak Advisors, the investment arm of the LDS Church, didn’t fund religious, education, or charitable causes in 22 years.

Pictured: A Mormon temple reflecting into a pond in Salt Lake City

Pictured: A Mormon temple reflecting into a pond in Salt Lake City

That complaint alleges $2 billion was used to help Beneficial Financial Group and City Creek Center weather hard times.

Huntsman points to that whistleblower complaint as the way he discovered the church’s alleged fraud.

He asked for his donations back after the complaint was filed, but was repeatedly turned away by the church, which claimed they ‘could do whatever it wanted with tithing funds.’ 

The church claims tithing funds were not used to buy or develop the City Creek Center, which was unveiled in 2003, or used to give $594 million to Beneficial Life in 2009.

That half-billion-plus funding came from Deseret Management, another commercial company associated with the church.

Huntsman claims the City Creek Center is one of several projects that used charitable donations given to the church, despite pledges the money would not be used commercially

Huntsman claims the City Creek Center is one of several projects that used charitable donations given to the church, despite pledges the money would not be used commercially

Huntsman makes clear in the lawsuit that he is not targeting the religious beliefs of the church, just their alleged fraudulent actions with members’ tithes.

In the lawsuit, Huntsman claims the fine print in tithing forms for the church was changed in 2012

He alleges it previously said tithes would be used ‘at the Church’s sole discretion in its missionary program,’ before shifting the language for tithes to be used to ‘further the Church’s overall mission.’  

James Huntsman runs film distribution firm Blue Fox Entertainment and previously worked as an executive for the Huntsman Corp. Jon Huntsman Jr. ran for president in 2012 and has served as an ambassador to Singapore, China, and most recently, Russia.

According to ABC4, James Huntsman also joined the board of Equality Utah in 2016, which seeks equal rights for the LGBTQ community.


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