FBI Files On Paul Crouch Prompt Sensationalised Reports

Muckrock has posted FBI files relating to the late televangelist Paul Crouch:

Requested by long-time MuckRock user RobbyD, the file reveals the laundry list of Crouch’s activities the FBI was monitoring or even investigating. Though the file is heavily redacted, it’s intact enough to describe the FBI’s investigations into some of his exploits, whose findings are mostly based on a host of phone calls to and from Trinity Broadcasting Network with some pretty sketchy players.

The files show that in 1997 the Italian Revenue Service (the GDF) was investigating Teletevere, TBN’s Italian operation, over “possible violation of the Italian Mammi Law which prohibits majority foreign ownership of Italian broadcasting companies” and “the legality of religious broadcasts promoting healing powers followed by the solicitation of donations from viewers”. The FBI provided the GDF with various background details, including the claim that an apparent subsidiary, called CHLC, had allegedly made false financial statements in the early 1980s relating to “pre-billing” (Muckrock incorrectly suggests this was revealed as part of the GDF’s investigation).

Further, however:

The file mentions phone contact between TBN and the Sons of Italy Lodge in the Bronx, NY. You might be thinking that this is pretty shaky evidence to suggest Crouch was in contact with the mob, but considering the fact that the phone record was included in a subsection of the infamous Bronx mobster Vincent “Chin” Gigante’s FBI file, it’s pretty clear that the FBI was drawing some kind of connection.

MuckRock links this rather obscure and tenuous connection to Gigante with TBN’s business affairs in Italy, although there’s nothing in the original documents to justify doing so. But that’s just the start of it:

Numerous sections of the document mention TBN’s phone communications with an unnamed agent who was “recruited by the East German Intelligence Service.” The file later describes that the man believed to have been recruited by East Germany was a New York attorney who called TBN repeatedly between April and September of 1986… Other sketchy phone calls that went in and out of TBN over the years were from a Hungarian computer programmer whom TBN sponsored for U.S. citizenship, and phone calls from a number in Omaha to the TBN line which were documented in a separate FBI narcotics transfer investigation. 

We don’t know who made or took these calls at TBN, or what they were about. The New York attorney’s day job would have brought him into innocent contact with hundreds of individuals and businesses – does that mean they were all involved with “East German spying”?

One document provided to Italian authorities for background notes a number of subjects, and includes the following:

199H-LA-3499: Paul Crouch is the subject of this case which is an IT-PLO investigation. [REDACTED] was was initiated 8/11/87 based on reporting that Paul Crouch, along with Reverend Earl Paulk, [REDACTED] and Oral Roberts, were anti-Semitic and white supremacists. Crouch and the others were supposedly receiving funds from the PLO to “run guns.” The closing serial for this case is serial 6 and is dated 10/8/87.

A handwritten note under this adds: “NOT UPLOADED! NO NEW LEADS”! The second page of the document adds that

TBS [sic] was also the subscriber of a number provided in response to a Balitmore airtel dated 12/16/85, captioned ISLAMIC EDUCATION CENTER (IEC); IT-IRAN.

This particular detail seems to have been mentioned because the IEC was of interest to the FBI in 1985 for some other reason (apparently to do with Iran); the Muckrock article links this to the alleged “gun running”, although again the source itself doesn’t do so.

But the whole story lacks credibility. How exactly would TBN “run guns”? And the “anti-Semitic and white supremacist” accusation is completely off-base; I expect the anonymous accuser was inspired by an outdated and stereotypical view of white fundamentalist preachers derived from the likes of Gerald L.K. Smith. It’s unsustainable in all three cases, and Crouch in particular was an ardent Christian Zionist who strongly supported Israel.

It’s frequently intriguing and informative to see private files that reveal how the authorities gathered intelligence on a public figure; but the temptation to get carried away and sensationalise ought to be resisted. MuckRock‘s piece has also been picked up by Raw Story, under the headline “FBI Files Link Christian TV’s Paul Crouch to Italian Mob, Palestinian Gun Trafficking.”