State office investigating local nonprofit

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It has been just over two weeks since Potter’s Field Ministries and other associated nonprofits closed their doors amid a wave of allegations against the organization’s founders — a folding that displaced dozens of church members, put the ministry’s assets in limbo and created a rift in financial transparency between the ministry and its donors.

Officials with the Montana Attorney General’s Office, which monitors nonprofit activity in the state, “have been in conversation with them [Potter’s Field officials] and are currently looking into their current status.” Department officials were unable to comment further.

The Attorney General’s office, as well as officials with Potter’s Field, will be investigating potential problems involving mismanagement, fraud, labor, wages, and more surrounding the multiple nonprofits.

According to a public statement from Rob McCoy, the new chairman of Potter’s Field’s Board of Directors and pastor with Godspeak Church in Thousand Oaks, California, a “full investigation as to any formal allegations brought to the Boards of these ministries,” will be performed. He adds that, with oversight from other pastors, he will “arrange for an independent audit to be taken, with the findings to be made public.”

“If these ministries are found to have been involved in any ethical or legal failure, it is our intention to both own those failings and make restitution where fault has been established,” McCoy writes.

He says one red flag in particular may lie with the ministry’s MudMan Burgers restaurants, which was “doing business as” a portion of one of the nonprofits. As part of the ministry’s former IGNITE program, interns signed a contract saying if they worked more than 40 hours a week, those hours would be considered volunteer work. Multiple former interns said they worked upwards of 80 hours per week, for $2 to $3 per hour.

Officials with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry offered general responses via email to questions regarding pay in Montana as it pertains to nonprofits, according to Montana Law. The answers did not imply a position on MudMan specifically.

First, any contract, like the one signed by employees at MudMan, entered into between the employee and employer which violates or circumvents the law is “unlawful and void.” Additionally, Montana law requires if an employee works more than 40 hours, those hours are required to be paid at time-and-a-half. Finally, volunteer work falls under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which states “due to the possibility of coercion to perform unpaid services, paid employees may not volunteer to perform the same type of services for their employer that they are normally employed to perform.”

Former interns stated their paid duties and volunteer duties at MudMan were indistinguishable.

According to McCoy, the board hopes to sell the popular MudMan franchise. There are multiple interested buyers.

MCCOY had previously divulged intentions to promptly dissolve the nonprofits and liquidate the assets. While those intentions still stand, Montana law regarding nonprofits details the complicated nature of such transitions.

He wrote, “After conferencing with the office of the Attorney General of Montana, we have ascertained that immediate dissolution of the two Potter’s Field nonprofits cannot be accomplished. That process will proceed as to each organization in keeping with Montana state law and will eventually be subject to the review and approval of the Attorney General.”

McCoy now predicts the majority of the dissolution process will be complete by 2020.

Dissolution can occur after the assets of Potter’s Field, which amount to about $1.5 million in property appraisal values and more in vehicle assessments, have been sold at fair market value. But the matter must first be voted on by the Board of Directors, which acts as the governing body for the Potter’s Field nonprofits.

McCoy maintains Mike and Pam Rozell, the founders facing allegations of abuse who are also on the Board of Directors, have removed themselves from ministry operations. However, they and other original board members will hold their positions until the assets have been sold. McCoy says all board members have greenlighted the selling of the assets.

“Michael and Pam Rozell have voluntarily removed themselves from the day-to-day operations of PFR and will be formally resigning from the Board of Directors along with the current sitting Board members as new officers and directors are elected to continue administration of the kids programs,” the statement reads.

McCoy says Potter’s Field Kids, which is one of the more well-known and successful programs to come from the ministry, is the only arm of the ministry that will continue operating.

“It takes a lot do Potter’s Field Kids well and we’ve done it well because we were able to put hands and feet on the ground in order to make a real difference,” said Austin Hiatt, who has been with Potter’s Field Kids for several years. “It was more than just giving a child some money and say ‘have a good day.’”

The program’s estimated 6,000 to 8,000 donors have supported children in need in Guatemala, Uganda and elsewhere overseas. They give $20 per month, or about $1.4 to $1.9 million per year and are provided a “prayer child,” who is supported by the work done by missionaries.

“I’ve been in and out of hundreds of churches and have personally signed up hundreds if not thousands of the existing sponsors and I’ve always been clear you’re supporting the work of Potter’s Field Kids as a whole,” Hiatt said.

Moving forward, a minimum of 85 percent of all donations will go directly to the children and missionaries, McCoy states. McCoy says he will be exercising full transparency and financial accountability of the sponsorship program in light of claims by Calvary Chapel pastor Don McClure, whose church was previously affiliated with Potter’s Field, that a portion of the money “wasn’t going to the kids.”

The claim of misappropriation of donor dollars is being investigated.

In the coming months, McCoy also hopes to meet with those perhaps affected most by the closing: the dozens of ministry members and former interns.

“There are a lot of people who are hurting in this valley and outside of the area. People were shell-shocked, their entire ministry just imploded overnight,” McCoy said. “I want to counsel them and will as soon as I get past what’s right in front of me.”

McCoy, who came on as an authority figure of Potter’s Field only weeks before the official closing and is also the mayor of Thousand Oaks, California, has described the entire event as “horrifying.”

“In all of my pastoral and political career, I have never witnessed anything quite like this,” McCoy said.

As it stands, money from the sales of assets of Potter’s Field will go toward three main purposes: bringing dozens of missionaries abroad back home, paying the ministry’s debts and regular expenses such as payrolls, and preparing for any litigation that may surface in light of findings from investigations and the allegations of verbal and emotional abuse. Godspeak, Calvary Chapel Associations and the Rozells will not receive any compensation from the sales, according to McCoy.

Reporter Kianna Gardner at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com

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