(PresidentialHill.com)- A seminary program in Tacoma, Washington, will no longer receive federal education funds from Veterans Affairs following an FBI raid there earlier in the year.
Search warrants were executed by the FBI in June at several locations of the House of Prayer Christian Church. Most of the locations of the church are in the Southeast and close to military bases. Former members of the church have said that the chain of churches is like a cult that works to defraud soldiers.
One former minister of the church told a local media outlet that the church’s Tacoma location, built in 2004, was targeting soldiers who were housed at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord nearby.
A spokesperson for the base said over the summer that they were familiar with the church, though they wouldn’t comment any further. The field office for the FBI in Seattle said there was “court-authorized law enforcement activity” at House of Prayer, but they wouldn’t provide any more details.
Both former and current members of the church have accused officials there of draining GI Bill funds of many veterans. They did so by enrolling them in fake seminary classes, then pressuring them to obtain full VA disability and ultimately donate those benefits to the church.
Veterans Education Success, a non-profit group that provides legal assistance, sent a report to the VA in August of 2020 about House of Prayer. In that report, church members also said that the church used their personal information as well as forged their signatures to apply for multiple VA loans for homes without them knowing about it.
The entire church is centered around its founder, Rony Denis. The members said that the leaders there harass members and then retaliate against those who go onto speak out about the organization.
In late July, officials with the Washington Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, which is responsible for approval all funding from the GI Bill that goes to educational programs that aren’t degree-granting.
A spokesperson for the Workforce board said the school wouldn’t turn over files it had on students. The board ultimately revoked the approval the school had to enroll students who were using benefits from the VA.
The spokesperson said that the school first received approval in 2014 after they went through the application process and underwent an inspection of a site. Four years later, during a site compliance audit, there were “no errors” found by the Workforce Board.
During the 2020 fiscal year alone, the Tacoma House of Prayer received $153,000 in funds from the GI Bill from 20 students, VA database records show. This past summer, there were 32 active students who were attending with GI Bill funds.
From 2013 through 2022, the House of Prayer got more than $7 million in funds from the BI bill across the country.
The spokesperson for the board said they weren’t aware of efforts to warn the local veterans about the school.