A North Carolina church was reportedly involved in an unemployment scam, calling it part of "God's plan."
Leaders in the Word of Faith church allegedly instructed congregants to make hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fraudulent unemployment claims, according to an investigation by The Associated Press. Congregants were told to file unemployment claims to increase their rates for tithing.
Tithing is a practice of contributing a percentage of a church member's income, often 10 percent, to the church, according to Bible Bay.
Former Word of Faith congregant Randy Fields said that he had asked church founder Jane Whaley to let him pay less of his income in tithing because his construction company was struggling financially.
Instead, Whaley allegedly told Fields to file fraudulent unemployment claims on his employees' behalf, so that he could continue to tithe at least 10 percent of his income to the church -- a scheme that Whaley reportedly described as being "God's plan."
Fields and 10 other former members from the church have said they and numerous employees filed false claims for unemployment at the instruction of leaders from Word of Faith. According to the former congregants, they were interviewed about the fraudulent claims by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.
Word of Faith is based in North Carolina but also has branches outside the U.S. in Scotland, Ghana, Brazil and other parts of the world, Fortune reports.
The church is also reported to be under investigation for claims that its leaders physically assaulted congregants, exploited the labor of Brazilian church members who were brought to the U.S., and told congregants to lie to investigators.
Under Whaley's plan, Fields' employees would work without pay and receive unemployment.
"Basically, their unemployment checks would become their paychecks," explained Fields, who was a member of Word of Faith for 24 years and left in 2015. He said that while he knew that what was going on was illegal, he cooperated because those who didn't could face public shaming from Whaley or physical assault from other congregants.
Rick Cooper, another former member that admitted he had fraudulently filed for unemployment, shared a similar account.
"You knew it was wrong, but you knew you couldn't say a word," said Cooper.
"Jane was heavily involved," said former Word of Faith minister Rachel Bryant. "She was always asking questions about it."
"I remember after I was on unemployment for a few months and Jane said: 'You're still on unemployment, right?'" recalled Bryant. "And I said: 'Yes.' And she said: 'Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!'"
The former congregants added that the money they made from from the unemployment scheme was often not enough to make ends meet.
"I was making about $700 a week, but I only collected $235 a week in unemployment," Cooper explained. "It was devastating for my family."