What to know about the House of Prayer Church raided by the FBI in Fayetteville

·5 min read
House of Prayer Christian Church on Hodge Street in Fayetteville.
House of Prayer Christian Church on Hodge Street in Fayetteville.

On June 23, the FBI served simultaneous search warrants on at least six House of Prayer Christian Churches in Fayetteville, Georgia, Washington, Texas, and California.

The FBI declined to say if the searches were related or if they were connected to a particular case. The church, known as HOPCC with 11 churches near U.S. military installations, has a reputation for fleecing veterans of their education and disability benefits and operating as a cult, according to a letter sent to the Veterans Administration, formerly known as Veteran's Administration, by the Veterans Education Success, a nonprofit that oversees the use of GI Bill benefits.

Related news: FBI raids Georgia churches near military bases, sources say church was targeting soldiers

Here are three things you need to know about the group and its ties to Fayetteville:

Where they are

Records with the N.C. Secretary of State indicates that the Baton Rouge, Louisiana-founded group registered its House of Prayer Church on Hodge Street in Fayetteville in 2013. The record states the church's principal office is located in Hinesville, Georgia — one of the properties raided by the FBI. According to Cumberland County property records, House of Prayer Christian Churches of America owns four adjacent parcels in Bonnie Doone on Hodge Street as well as two adjacent properties on neighboring Grooms Street. All six were purchased in 2016.

The FBI served a search warrant on the church at 5204 Hodge St. on June 23,  an FBI spokesperson confirmed. But what was being sought by the warrant was not released.

Related: House of Prayer among five churches raided by FBI near military bases, no arrests made

What they do

The church operates bible seminaries outside of military bases in Hinesville, Georgia; Augusta, Georgia; Tacoma, Washington; Killeen, Texas; Fayetteville, North Carolina; and, San Diego, California, according to incorporation papers from the secretary of state offices in those states. The local church reportedly opened House of Prayer Christian Church Day School here in 2015, teaching grades kindergarten through 12th. They also advertise a Teenage Missionaries group and a children's choir.

Allegations

In 2020, Veterans Education Success wrote a letter to the Veterans Administration, asking that abuse of the GI Bill program by House of Prayer Christian Church’s bible seminaries be investigated. Veterans Education Successworks to ensure the success of military-connected students using the GI Bill and other federal educational benefits, and to weed out waste, fraud, and abuse, according to its website.

Among dozens of allegations in the 11-page letter dated August 2020, former members of the church reportedly told Veterans Education Success that House of Prayer:

• deceives the VA during inspections and targets veterans in order to access GI Bill funding, VA disability compensation and VA home loans.

• lies to VA inspectors about how much time students spend in class, telling inspectors students were in class when instead they were recruiting new members or doing other work for the church; lied about the percentage of veteran students attending the classes to make it seem like more civilians attended; lied about the number of students attending the one program approved for GI Bill funding, by stating all the students in different states attended that one approved program.

• charges significantly higher tuition to VA students. "Civilians were given 'in house grants' to reduce the price or (were) later reimbursed if they paid full price. By contrast, student veterans were billed the full price of tuition." Students using the GI Bill paid from $500 to $900 per month.

• misleads the VA about teacher college degrees and salaries, when the teachers only had certificates and were not paid.

• requires students, who were supposed to be in class, to recruit new members, telling them to specifically target young soldiers and military spouses alone with young children.

• changes class names or retaught material to keep students enrolled longer. "For example, HOPCC had a class called 'The Books of Moses.' HOPCC broke up the course into five separate classes, each covering one of the five books," the letter states. "Students who took the original 'Books of Moses' course were required to take the five separate classes even though they covered the same material. This allowed HOPCC to continue to collect tuition money."

• students deplete their education benefits and never receive a completion certificate. One student attended classes for 10 years in three different states, another for 12 years in Georgia. Both exhausted their benefits and never received a certificate. The letter goes on to state: "It is highly unlikely that receiving a certificate from HOPCC's bible seminaries would benefit students in any way ... A HOPCC certificate would only allow graduates to preach or teach at HOPCC churches and bible seminaries." The letter also alleges that women were prohibited from preaching or teaching in the church even though they used their benefits to attend the classes. The credits are also non-transferable to other schools.

• manipulates veterans into donating their VA disability compensation to the church and coaches veterans on how to lie to get 100% disability ratings. HOPCC allegedly told members that other people were "sinners" and their lies to the VA were "right with God." Veterans were often required to make a variety of payments such as "weekly offerings," "monthly offerings," "electric bill offerings" and "soul-winning offerings." The letter states: "Many veterans were even allegedly told that 'God blessed you [with disability compensation] so you could give your time to him and not worry about working a regular job."

• engages in mortgage fraud by taking out loans in parishioners' names and forging signatures with the use of in-house notaries. The ability to perpetrate such fraud was because the church had access to students' Social Security numbers and other personal information.

Military & Crime Editor F.T. Norton can be reached at fnorton@fayobserver.com.

The Fayetteville Observer app is free to download.

Huge savings: $1 for 3 months

Subscribe today to support local journalism and enjoy unlimited digital access including videos, apps, sports news, and more. Special introductory offer for new subscribers only.

This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: What to know: House of Prayer Church, raided by the FBI in Fayetteville