US tax raps media stunt, says Iglesia Ni Cristo
THE IGLESIA ni Cristo (INC) on Tuesday rebutted allegations by its former minister, Vincent Florida, who said he had meant to protect the church by filing a tax case in the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that involved longer processes and would allow the influential church to address financial irregularities.
“We are no longer surprised at the lengths our detractors will go to attack the reputation of the church,” INC spokesperson Edwil Zabala said in a statement.
“Our accusers will say anything to get the attention of the media, including coming up with stories that make so little sense it’s amazing they see print,” he added.
In reporting INC to the US taxman, Florida said he filled out IRS Form 3949-A, which is used for reporting suspected tax fraud, including false exemptions or deductions, kickbacks, false or altered document, failure to pay tax, unreported income and organized crime.
He said he did not use IRS Form 211, part of the tax agency’s whistle-blower program which awards informants 15 to 30 percent of the tax collected. He likened the document to a bomb that could destroy the sect.
The former minister claimed he deliberately chose Form 3949-A because it would require “a longer investigation lead time” to give the INC leadership and “anyone else who received income from the US congregations” time to cooperate with the US government and make the appropriate tax declarations.
He noted that many churches in the United States had lost their nonprofit status because of tax evasion and “offerings” being used for personal gain.
Florida, 65, said he left INC on July 30 amid allegations of corruption in the sect and the abduction of ministers critical of its leadership.
Zabala said Florida’s statements “reveal the credibility of the accuser and the evidence behind the allegations: none.”
“Ultimately, Mr. Florida presents no evidence to back up any of his claims, all of which are based on gossip. We challenge him to use whatever IRS form he wants, but the result will be the same because we have done nothing wrong,” he said.
Zabala also said that if what the former minister said weren’t true, then he should be held accountable “for wasting the time of the IRS and making a mockery of US tax laws.”
The INC minister also provided an analogy of Florida’s statement: “It’s like he reported a robbery to the police, only to tell the robbers to return the money so they would not be caught—while at the same time holding a press conference accusing the robbers of committing a crime. Isn’t that unbelievable?”
He repeated calls for the public to be circumspect in the face of repeated attempts to destroy the credibility of INC and its leaders.
“We continue to pray for an end to these attacks so that we can quietly and peacefully focus on the expansion programs of the church and its numerous sociocivic activities,” Zabala said.