The next big step in James Huntsman’s tithing lawsuit against LDS Church: his deposition.
At the court’s first hearing into the dispute, the federal judge set August 30 as the date on which he can decide whether or not to close the case.
Los Angeles • James Huntsman’s headline-grabbing lawsuit accusing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of fraud and seeking to recover millions of dollars in personal tithe will survive – at least for another two months.
That’s when a federal judge might decide to dismiss the case, but not before Huntsman, 50, brother of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., is sworn in. and have the option of providing documentation on their charitable donations. .
U.S. District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson in Los Angeles on Monday ordered lawyers for both sides to prepare for an August 30 summary judgment hearing in which he may choose to dismiss the lawsuit – as requested by the Utah-based church – or to allow it to continue.
Huntsman’s lawsuit accuses Latter-day Saint leaders of fraud, alleging that they “repeatedly and publicly” misled him and other church members about billions of dollars in donations, including at least $ 5 million from his own tithe – contributions that were solicited for missionary, temple building and charitable projects. The former Utahn, who now lives in California, alleges the church “brazenly misappropriated” chunks of those charitable funds and instead used them for business purposes.
Church officials have called Huntsman’s claims “baseless” and insist they used tithing appropriately. They have sought to portray the founder and owner of film distributor Blue Fox Entertainment as a disgruntled former Latter-day Saint, who resigned his membership in 2020 and now wants his charitable contributions returned.
If Huntsman gets his tithe back, he said he wanted the money to go to groups “marginalized by the teachings and doctrines of the church, including … charities supporting LGBTQ, African American and human rights. women”.
Lawyers declined to comment on the dispute to a reporter on Monday – with one exception. When asked if Latter-day Saint leaders misled members about tithing, as Huntsman asserts, Rick Richmond, an attorney hired by the church with Los Angeles law firm Jenner & Block, replied, “No. “
Huntsman, a son of the late Utah industrialist-philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr., was also in attendance for Monday’s 15-minute hearing, the first since he filed his complaint in March. He also declined to comment.
He has requested a jury trial in a case that draws heavily on allegations made in a separate complaint filed with U.S. tax authorities in late 2019.
David Nielsen, a former investment portfolio manager for the church’s Ensign Peak Advisors, said in a whistleblower complaint to the IRS that Latter-day Saint leaders have amassed $ 100 billion in a reserve account intended to – but never spent on – charity in potential violation of tax laws. He accused Faith of directing up to $ 2 billion toward commercial ventures, including the upscale City Creek Center mall in downtown Salt Lake City.
Huntsman said in his lawsuit he “uncovered” the church’s alleged fraud via Nielsen’s complaint, saying the whistleblower had “courageously lifted the veil” on the faith’s financial activities.
Church government First Presidency maintained that the global faith of over 16.6 million members “complies with all applicable laws governing our donations, investments, taxes and reserves.”
The money used for City Creek, the Faith said, did not come from tithing, but rather from “church-owned business entities” and “earnings from invested reserve funds.”
There has been no public confirmation that federal authorities are actively pursuing the whistleblower’s complaint.
Editor’s Note • James Huntsman is a brother of Paul Huntsman, chairman of the board of directors of the nonprofit Salt Lake Tribune.