SALT LAKE CITY — A member of one of Utah's most prominent families, and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has filed a lawsuit accusing the church of fraud.
James Huntsman says the church spent tithes from members on commercial interests instead of charity, as it was intended.
"This is not a case about faith; it is a case about fraud and corporate greed," the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California and first reported by the Washington Post.
Huntsman claims the Church lied to members about the use of funds that it said would be used for non-commercial purposes such as "missionary work, member indoctrination, temple work, and other educational and charitable activities."
Instead, the lawsuit alleges the donations were used to develop the Church's commercial real estate and insurance holdings.
Huntsman says he was defrauded out of millions of dollars that he believed would be used for charity. From 1993 to 2017, the lawsuit alleges he tithed 10 percent of his annual income to the Church.
"To be clear, this case is neither an inquiry into nor a criticism of the religious tenets and beliefs of the Church," the lawsuit reads. "Mr. Huntsman has the utmost respect for the members of the Church, and likewise respects their beliefs and customs. Indeed, for almost his entire life, Mr. Huntsman was a devout and faithful member of the Church, taking on leadership roles and dedicating his time and resources to what he believed to be the Church’s righteous mission. Clearly, however, the LDS Corporation failed to treat Mr. Huntsman with the same respect."
According to court documents, Huntsman is seeking $5 million in damages. He says he will then take the money and donate it to charities "supporting LGBTQ, African-American, and women’s rights."
Huntsman sits on the board of his family's foundation. Tax records show that charity has given the church $2.3 million since 2009. Neither the foundation nor other Huntsman family members are parties in the lawsuit.
Huntsman's actions come just over a year after David Nielsen, a former manager of Ensign Peak Advisors, the Church's investment division, accused the Church of using $2 billion to bail out an insurance company and to build the City Creek Mall in Salt Lake City.
In a statement to FOX 13, a Church spokesperson disputed Huntsman's allegations, saying tithing was not used to fund the construction of City Creek Mall.
"As [LDS Church] President Hinckley said in the April 2003 General Conference of the Church, the funds came from 'commercial entities owned by the Church' and the 'earnings of invested reserve funds.' A similar statement was made by President Hinckley in the October 2004 General Conference. Mr. James Huntsman’s claim is baseless,” said Erick Hawkins.
“Tithing funds are voluntary contributions by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an expression of their faith in God. 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 to the work of the Church, as reflected in scripture and determined by Church leaders.”
FOX 13 reporter Spencer Joseph spoke with Sam Brunson, a law professor at Loyola University Chicago, about the lawsuit. Watch the extended interview here: