Racketeering Suit Claims Mark Driscoll Misused Mars Hill Donor Dollars

Two former Mars Hill Church leaders, including pastor Mark Driscoll, are hit with a racketeering lawsuit, accusing them of fraudulently using thousands if not millions of dollars of donor money.

Four former Mars Hill members filed a civil racketeering lawsuit against Driscoll, charging that the once swaggering pastor fraudulently used thousands if not millions of dollars raised by the church, which once boasted 15 branches in five states with 13,000 visitors on Sundays. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for Western Washington, also names former Mars Hill executive elder John Sutton Turner as a defendant.

 

Mark Driscoll may have moved on to a new city and a new church, but he faces the sharpest demand yet to account for his actions at Mars Hill Church.

On Monday, four former Mars Hill members filed a civil racketeering lawsuit against Driscoll, charging that the once swaggering pastor fraudulently used thousands if not millions of dollars raised by the church, which once boasted 15 branches in five states with 13,000 visitors on Sundays.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for Western Washington, also names former Mars Hill executive elder John Sutton Turner as a defendant.

A 42-page complaint accuses the two men of raising money for specific purposes and then using the money for other things, including a “scam” designed to make Driscoll a best-selling author.

The racketeering activity was “so deeply embedded, pervasive and continuous, that it was effectively institutionalized as a business practice,” reads the complaint. “A deadly toxin was injected,” it goes on, “ending in the complete destruction of the church.”

That happened in late 2014, when accusations not only of financial improprieties but misogyny, plagiarism and emotional abusiveness led Driscoll to resign and the once mighty church to implode.

Neither Driscoll nor Turner could be reached for comment Monday.

The lawsuit could set an interesting precedent. Brian Fahling, an attorney representing plaintiffs Brian and Connie Jacobsen and Ryan and Arica Kildea, two married couples, said he knew of only one other lawsuit involving racketeering allegations against religious figures.

“I think megachurches do have to be careful,” said Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Pennsylvania’s Grove City College and avid blogger about the Mars Hill saga. Other wealthy churches could face similar questions about who, exactly, is benefiting from moneys raised, he said.

To prove racketeering, the plaintiffs in the Mars Hill suit need to show an ongoing pattern of wrongful acts during a four-year period specified. Fahling claimed that won’t be a problem. “We’ve got hundreds or thousands of activities,” he said, including “every time an email was sent to a donor or something was posted to the website.”

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