Wayne Cordeiro, New Hope Church’s charismatic founding pastor, has collected hefty salaries in recent years, sometimes more than $300,000 a year, according to tax disclosure forms.
Cordeiro’s also the director of New Hope Christian Fellowship — the network of New Hope churches — and a former president and current board member of New Hope Christian Colleges, but salary information from those organizations is harder to track down because the IRS exempts churches from filing annual returns.
And data from the Bureau of Conveyances show that Cordeiro and his wife Anna have owned lots of expensive real estate, including a $2.3 million unit in the Hokua luxury condo that they bought in 2006 and sold in 2011, and a $928,000 unit in the Koolani condo complex that they bought last year. The family also spends part of their time on a farm they own in Eugene, Ore.
Cordeiro did not respond to requests for an interview for this story. His secretary directed Civil Beat to John Tilton, the New Hope Oahu pastor in charge of the church's finances.
An average senior pastor at a U.S. megachurch made $147,000 in 2010, according to one study. Scott Thumma, a professor at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research who analyzes megachurches, told Civil Beat Cordeiro's earnings seem "somewhat high" but aren't unusual among clergy at very large megachurches.
Critics say Cordeiro’s pay is a reflection of the megachurch’s corporate business model and an indication that the New Hope churches — three of which are embroiled in a lawsuit alleging they underpaid the state for their use of facilities and utilities at schools such as Farrington High — are in fact shortchanging public education.
New Hope is affiliated with the Los Angeles-based Evangelical-Pentecostal Christian denomination known as Foursquare Gospel and is the fastest-growing church in Hawaii, with services at Farrington High School alone drawing an estimated 11,500 people each weekend. It's the quintessential megachurch, which according to Forbes is defined as a non-Catholic church with at least 2,000 members that typically uses business and technological savvy to grow its congregation.
New Hope International Ministries, which was founded by Cordeiro, is the arm of New Hope that recruits ministry leaders and spearheads efforts to grow the New Hope church. Since it was launched, New Hope International has “planted” more than 100 churches throughout the world, including in various U.S. cities and Japan, Myanmar and Australia.
In the original version of New Hope International Ministries’ 2009 filing, the organization even reported that Cordeiro took home an annual salary totaling $558,000 (see below). But an updated version of the same filing deleted $519,000 from his reported compensation. Much of that $519,000 represented Cordeiro’s “Rabbi Trust Retirement” account, which he dissolved that year under the advice of a tax attorney, according to Tilton, the financial officer of Farrington’s New Hope Oahu, where Cordeiro is the senior pastor.
Meanwhile, forms from 2010 and 2011 — the most recent years for which 990 forms are publicly available — indicate that Cordeiro made just $47,000 and $0 in those years, respectively, but they don't include any other sources of compensation.
Civil Beat’s questions about Cordeiro’s income are geared at getting a better understanding of the finances of the church, which has been accused by critics — and in a lawsuit — of intentionally underpaying schools.
But Tilton characterized the inquiry as a cheap attempt to smear Cordeiro and New Hope.
“What you’re doing is not good for the church, and it’s not good for the community,” Tilton said angrily. He didn't respond to any of Civil Beat's follow-up questions.
He emphasized that New Hope International Ministries and New Hope Christian Fellowship are separate entities and that comparing them would be “like apples and oranges.” He said figures reported as Cordeiro's salary don't reflect the amount he actually takes home, but declined to explain exactly why.
Still, several of the 990 forms filed by New Hope International Ministries show that the nonprofit has regularly fed big sums of money into both the churches and New Hope Christian Colleges, including a $500,516 grant to the former in 2009 and grants totaling more than $450,000 to the latter in 2008, 2010 and 2011.
Those transactions could raise conflict-of-interest concerns considering Cordeiro has decision-making power at all organizations. State law prohibits conflict-of-interest transactions.
Moreover, New Hope International Ministries’ filings show that the organization lacks a conflict-of-interest policy, as well as other policies considered inherent to good governance such as those regulating whistleblowers and document retention and destruction. The organization also reported in its 2011 return that it had changed its policies to give the president, in this case Cordeiro, greater discretion over the ministries' bylaws and their amendments.
Since 2009, New Hope International Ministries has also owned a for-profit entity, New Hope Properties LLC, recent filings show.
New Hope Churches at Center of Lawsuit
Three New Hope churches — including New Hope Oahu — account for the lion’s share of the $5.6 million the lawsuit alleges is owed to public schools. According to the lawsuit, those New Hope churches deprived the schools by an alleged $4.5 million, with One Love Ministries and Calvary Chapel Central Oahu making up the rest.
Hawaii Foursquare Gospel spokesman and New Hope Pastor Fernando Castillo in August denied the allegations, saying in a statement that the churches have always honored usage agreements with the Hawaii Department of Education and “have also given voluntarily hundreds of thousands of dollars to the schools we use to upgrade their facilities and equipment.” A group of attorneys representing some of the churches recently filed a motion to dismiss the case.
The lawsuit is unusual in that it was filed by private citizens Holly Huber and Mitch Kahle — not the state. It is unclear why the Attorney General chose not to pursue the case, although the bulk of any damages, which could amount to $16.8 million, would go into DOE coffers. (Huber and Kahle, who are known for their advocacy for the separation of church and state, would still be eligible for between 25 percent and 35 percent of any compensation.)
When the plaintiffs announced in August that the Circuit Court had unsealed their lawsuit, they emphasized that the Hawaii Department of Education’s rental rates are already dirt-cheap.
Board of Education policy requires that schools charge only the base amount needed to recover costs of renting out the facilities. It costs just $63 an hour to rent a school cafeteria, in addition to about $19 an hour for utilities and custodial work.
Still, a February 2012 email that New Hope Oahu staff member Laurie Komeiji wrote to Farrington High School officials, for example, shows that rate was still too costly for the church. Using rates established by the school officials, Komeiji calculated that the church’s annual rent would total about $880,845.
“If the rental fees were to amount to this, we would be forced to look for another location, as we would not be able to afford this much for rental fees,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, news coverage of New Hope’s rapid growth highlight the church’s preference for renting out third-party facilities, instead of developing its own brick-and-mortar sites, as a cost-saving measure.
“Rather than spend money to build huge churches on high-priced Hawaiian land, New Hope favors leasing schools for services.” wrote reporter Bob Welch in a 2011 article for the Register-Guard, a Eugene newspaper. “‘We like building people, not churches,’ Cordeiro says.”
When announcing their lawsuit, Huber and Kahle indicated that the churches have taken advantage of the state’s low-rent facilities while reveling in flashy, high-tech services and embracing rock-star personalities such as Cordeiro.
New Hope churches have grown because “they’ve been subsidized by the children of Hawaii, by the Department of Education and by taxpayers,” Huber said in August.
The plaintiffs began their investigation in December 2011, starting with contracts between churches and Hawaii public schools obtained from the DOE. They compared those contracts — which included hours for the services and calculations for rental rates — with what the lawsuit calls a “church-by-church, boots-on-the-ground investigation” that involved weekend visits to the schools and analyses of online church event postings.
According to the lawsuit, Huber and Kahle “discovered significant discrepancies” between the hours recorded in contracts and the time actually spent at the schools. The amount paid also failed to take into account the amount of electricity used for New Hope’s use of extensive lighting, sound and production technology, the suit alleges.
The lawsuit even includes a June 2012 email written by Kapolei Middle School Vice Principal Andrew Matsuda, who described New Hope Kapolei’s weekend use of the school’s facilities as a “burden” on the school’s custodial staff. Matsuda also pointed out that the church as of June had owed the school approximately $40,000 dating back to 2010.