LDS church rejects whistleblower’s allegations from ’60 Minutes’ interview

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' came out against allegations made by Whistleblower David Nielsen against the church's investment arm.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) rejected the allegations brought forth by a whistleblower who claimed in a “60 Minutes” interview that the Church is operating a “clandestine hedge fund” after having accumulated more than $100 billion in assets. 

David Nielsen, who worked for nine years at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ investment arm, Ensign Peak Advisers, argued that the church should lose its tax-exempt status for allegedly not using the money for charitable purposes.

In a statement to Fox News Digital, a spokesperson for the church condemned Nielsen’s claims and the “60 Minutes” report. 

“The Church believes in being financially responsible by carefully ensuring it has adequate resources available to fulfill its divinely appointed responsibilities,” an LDS spokesperson told Fox News Digital. “To Church members who support the work of salvation through living the gospel of Jesus Christ, caring for those in need, inviting all to receive the gospel and uniting families for eternity, we’ll continue to move forward consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ which makes this world a better place.”

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“It’s unfortunate 60 Minutes sought to elevate a story based on unfounded allegations by a former employee who has a different view on how the Church should manage its resources,” the statement added. The church added that it moves forward “consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” 

In the interview, Nielsen told CBS News that the church collects an estimated $7 billion annually from its 17 million members through a practice known as tithing – which involves the church expecting members to contribute 10% of their incomes. 

What is not spent each year is transferred into a reserve fund, Nielsen said. He claimed that this fund has ballooned beyond $100 billion since its inception in 1997. 

Mormon church building

A temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Kensington, Maryland, near Washington, D.C. A whistleblower alleged to CBS News that the Mormon church was operating a “clandestine hedge fund.” (EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images)

That amount, CBS noted, is twice the size of Harvard’s endowment or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Nielsen claimed that Ensign Peak used false records and statements to falsely present as a charity, hoarding money and misleading church members.

“You could solve big problems with $100 billion,” Nielsen said. “I thought we were gonna change the world. And we just grew the bank account.” 

“I thought I was gonna work for a charity. I thought that’s what my skills were gonna do,” Nielsen told CBS, “was help build the charity and do good with things. And the funds were never used for that. It was really a clandestine hedge fund.” 

Nielsen told “60 Minutes” that his former church bosses explained to him how the extra funds would be used for “the second coming.” 

“It’s a bit tongue in cheek. But deep down, I think a lot of the employees really did believe that,” he said. 

In the interview, Nielsen said that in 2013, one of his bosses allegedly shared a document in a meeting disclosing how $1.4 billion from the fund went to the construction of a mall on land owned by the church and $600 million went to Beneficial Life, a church-owned, for-profit insurance company. 

“Look, I’m not an expert on charities. But I’d been around the block enough to know that charitable organizations can’t bail out for-profit businesses and maintain their charitable status,” Nielsen said. 

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IRS document

David Nielsen filed a whistleblower complaint to the Internal Revenue Service about the Mormon church’s investment fund. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In 2018, Nielsen alleges, the church called an emergency meeting after a website called “Mormonleaks” allegedly connected church members to shell companies that held billions of dollars in stocks and bonds. Nielsen resigned in 2019 and filed a 74-page whistleblower complaint with the Internal Revenue Service alleging that Ensign Peak violated its tax-exempt status by moving funds to for-profit businesses. It was not until 2021, he says, that he was contacted instead by the Securities and Exchange Commission. 

Christopher Waddell, one of three church bishops who oversees finances, said of Nielsen’s account of how the firm operated, “That’s not just incorrect, that’s flat-out wrong.” 

“As a Christian church we believe that someday there, Jesus Christ will return. But that’s not why we have those resources. It’s for the continuing operation and for the future,” Waddell told CBS. “The Church actually owned Beneficial Life. And fortunately the church had the resources to bail out Beneficial Life during the Financial Crisis, 2008, 2009.” 

He added the mall project was not a bailout, but an investment. 

Mormon church doors

A temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Rexburg, Idaho. A whistleblower claims the church accumulated more than $100 billion. (Natalie Behring/Getty Images)

Waddell also declined to disclose the estimated value of Ensign Peak given that religious organizations are exempt from having to fully disclose all financial information to the IRS. The SEC, however, requires any firm with more than $100 million in securities to file accurate reports on its holdings in order to protect market fairness and transparency. 

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The SEC later found that the church “went to great lengths” to hide $32 billion in securities over nearly 20 years, creating 13 shell companies assigned to local phone numbers that went directly to voicemail. Ultimately, the SEC announced charges that were settled in February when Ensign Peaks agreed to a $4 million fine, and the church agreed to pay $1 million.

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