NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES
DALLAS — Not long ago, the Fellowship Church in Grapevine was one of the largest and fastest-growing churches in the nation.
Its pastor, Ed Young, was making national headlines by encouraging married couples to have more sex.
But since that time, sources say membership has waned and some say Pastor Young may have lost his way — putting himself and secrecy over God.
He's splashy and hip; his message contemporary and cool. His marketing is tops in the world of mega-evangelism, making huge waves with his sermon in 2008 titled "Seven Days of Sex."
But in the past few months, it's not theology but physics that may be impacting Young. Namely: What goes up must come down.
One former staff member who says he was close to Young but wishes not to be identified, described it this way: "The lack of accountability. The lavish lifestyle that keeps increasing, while the attendance keeps decreasing."
Over the past few weeks, News 8 has been in contact with a number of individuals who were once close to Young at his massive Fellowship Church in Grapevine, disturbed by his direction and treatment of staff.
Young recently replaced his chief financial officer and replaced him with his personal attorney, business partner and fishing buddy, Dennis Brewer Jr.
With Brewer's help and a complex series of business creations and transactions, Young is now jetting around the country in a French-made Falcon 50 private jet; estimated value, $8.4 million.
Records obtained by News 8 indicate Fellowship Church became the operator of the jet in March of 2007. News 8 discovered the jet parked in a hangar at Alliance Airport north of Fort Worth, tucked away where only a select few can see it.
Those who hear him preach every Sunday have never been told about the aircraft.
"The staff members are told that there is no plane, and several staff members who have actually been on the plane have denied that there is a plane," said the former employee source.
Young, who declined an on-camera interview, told News 8 through a spokesman he "travels globally offering messages of inspiration and transformation to his peers and other pastors."
He makes no mention of traveling in a personal jet.
But FAA records show that as soon as Young took possession of the jet in 2007, the aircraft logged a week-long trip to the Bahamas.
One month later, Young's jet logged a six-day trip to Chetumal, Mexico, also known as the gateway to Belize.
But it's not just the jet and the international travel the Young keeps out of sight.
News 8 has also learned that Young's 10,000 square foot, $1.5 million estate on Lake Grapevine is not listed on the tax rolls in his name, but rather in the name of "Palometa Revocable Trust."
Records show that Young was paid $240,000 a year as a parsonage allowance; that's in addition what sources say is a $1 million yearly pastor's salary.
Young declined to discuss his salary and compensation with News 8, but his spokesman said the pastor's pay "is governed without his participation by an Independent Compensation Committee, relying on outside consultation with knowledgeable and experienced church leaders."
News 8 has also learned that in 2007, Young sold the intellectual property of Fellowship Church's marketing Web site, CreativePastors. He also sold the church's membership mailing list to a newly-formed, for-profit company called EY Publishing.
Today, CreativePastors.com is used by the Youngs to sell his sermons and books for profit.
"When did the intellectual property, when did the preaching and the Bible notes and the books become intellectual property for the pastor?" asked Ole Anthony of the Trinity Foundation in Dallas. "That's the property of the church."
Anthony says he and his Trinity Foundation investigative team have been monitoring Ed Young for the past three years. He believes Young has fallen into the same trap as many other televangelists he has investigated over the years.
"But now he's just bought in to greed in the name of God," Anthony said. "They are sanctifying greed, and that's what's so evil."
In the past few years, Young and his attorney, Dennis Brewer Jr., have created a number of for-profit companies generating money apart from Fellowship Church, including: Creative Pastors, CreativePastors.com, Creality Enterprises, Creality Publishing, EY Publishing, Ed Young Resources and UOI Resources.
All the businesses list the fifth floor of Dennis Brewer's law office in Las Colinas as their office address.
But the resources used to generate the profits come, in part, from the not-for-profit Fellowship Church. For example, Ed's favorite sermons that were delivered at the church.
SMU law professor Wayne Shaw is a former IRS agent who specializes in tax law. He says it's not unusual for pastors to accrue wealth from church resources, but it must be disclosed and separate from any for-profit business.
"They've been given a very special duty, and they get benefits for getting that special duty, such as tax exemptions, charitable contribution deductions," Shaw said. "I think it's owed to the public that there is transparency that the public sees that there is not something bad going on."
According to Young's spokesman, Larry Ross, "any transactions between the senior pastor and the church are conducted at arms-length with full disclosure to and approval by the board."
No one is accusing Young of breaking any laws, but perhaps he is violating the covenant of honesty with his congregation.
When we asked Young specifically if he has a personal jet, his spokesman told us only that he travels using commercial, charter and leased aircraft, and that he reimburses the church for any personal trips.
Young's spokesman also told News 8 his board approves all spending decisions, and their financial books are audited by an outside accounting firm.