Mormon church sued again over how it uses tithing contributions from members

In this 2006 photo, the sun sets behind the Mormon Temple, the centerpiece of Temple Square in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac, File)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A federal lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints investment arm misused hundreds of thousands of dollars donated by three men by investing the money instead of using it for charitable purposes as they claim was promised.

The legal action brings more scrutiny about how the faith known widely as the Mormon church handles its vast financial holdings bolstered by so-called “tithing” from by members who contribute 10% of their income. The church doesn’t publicly disclose details about its finances.

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This new lawsuit against the business and investment entities under the church in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City is similar to one filed in federal court in California by James Huntsman, brother of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr., that recently scored a partial success on appeal and remains pending. That lawsuit seeks the return of $5 million he donated before he left the church.

In February, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission fined the church and Ensign Peak $5 million for using shell companies to obscure the size of the investment portfolio under church control. The church agreed to pay $1 million and Ensign Peak will pay $4 million.

Church officials didn’t immediately respond for comment on the lawsuit.

The church has previously defended how it handles member contributions, calling Huntsman’s claims baseless while claiming contributions go to a variety of religious purposes including missionary work, education, humanitarian causes and construction of churches, temples and other buildings important to church work.

At issue in both lawsuits is whether the church’s investments in stocks, bonds, real estate and agriculture reflect the wishes of its donors.

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