Paula White, who heads President Donald Trump's Evangelical Advisory Council, has been accused by an ex-employee of stealing jewelry from offering plates at her former church.
White spoke to The New York Times in January about Trump:
More than people would ever recognize, he’s self-reflective. He’s a deep thinker, studier. He’s a phenomenal listener. I know that President-elect Trump has a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. We’ve had in-depth conversations about God.
White explained Trump's theology to the newspaper: "Winning to him also equates to good, and good equates to God."
White, who has been called Trump's "spiritual adviser," also said that Trump has "a heart for God, a hunger for God."
White co-pastored the Without Walls International Church in Tampa, Florida, with her then-second-husband Randy White until 2011. The church defaulted on a $1 million loan in 2008 and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2014, notes Heat Street.
Hector Gomez, a pastor who worked at the Whites' church from 1993 to 2000, told the financial news site that both members of the couple encouraged people to put valuables in the church offering plates, along with money.
"People would give them jewelry, diamonds, watches," Gomez recalled.
According to Gomez, he witnessed White going through the collection plate after church and taking jewelry that appeared to be valuable.
Gomez said White instructed him to sell the less-valuable accessories to a jeweler who bought secondhand pieces. Gomez told the news site that he saw White locking up the valuable jewelry in her desk.
Gomez recalled feeling uncomfortable selling church members' treasured jewelry to a jeweler who was going to melt it down or sell it.
Gomez said his wife donated a bracelet that he gave her when they got married.
"It wasn’t worth much," Gomez added. "It was a nice little bracelet. But it has sentimental value. I was so grieved. I was like, 'This belongs to the people in the church. They worked very hard.'"
According to Gomez, both Whites drove expensive cars and wore designer clothing.
"High living, the way that they were doing it,” Gomez stated. "It was obvious. You’d have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to see it … To me, I get so disgusted with it that I don’t want to hear it, I want to walk away from it."
Heat Street reports that a "pastor’s appreciation day" church letter from 2002 asked church members to donate cash specifically for the Whites:
Pastor’s appreciation is extremely special as we are afforded the opportunity to reverence God through our Pastors, as commanded in the Word of God! In 1 Timothy 5:17 God’s Word instructs us to "doubly honor" those who rule well over God’s people in His Kingdom.
In fact, literal translation of this verse would instruct us to "beat or pulverize them with monetary reward." What a powerful illustration God gave us on properly caring for our Pastors -- to beat them with money!
The letter reportedly asked the congregation to donate "a love offering of at least $100.00 into the lives of Pastors Randy and Paula," and said "some will prefer to [give] $500.00, $1,000.00, $10,000 or more, while others will simply do their best. Regardless of your ability to give, we ask for your participation in doing your very best."
Scholars at Cambridge and Oxford specializing in biblical language told Heat Street that 1 Timothy 5:17 does discuss supporting church leaders, but makes no mention of "beating or pulverizing pastors with money."
A Without Walls audit released in 2007 showed that the church raised more than $23 million in 2005 from its members and over $35 million in 2006.
White said in 2011 that Without Walls donated $9 million in 2007 to missions work in the U.S. and internationally.
White left Without Walls in 2011 and began pastoring the New Destiny Christian Church in Apopka, Florida.
During a congressional probe of the Whites' Without Walls church in which six churches were investigated, one church member said he believed the couple was paid more than $5 million per year by Without Walls. The probe, launched by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, did not find any evidence of illegal activity.
The probe also revealed that the Whites spent $3.88 million on an airplane lease during 2004 and 2005, and bought a 1969 Gulfstream private plane for $1.2 million in 2006; property records show that the Whites were living in a $2.1 million home in 2007.
White referred questions from Heat Street to the law firm of Martin Singer, which has represented Bill Cosby and Charlie Sheen.
The law firm reportedly threatened a lawsuit against Heat Street, site owner Dow Jones, and Heat Street journalist Jillian Kay Melchior, and said "all those involved will be liable for tens of millions of dollars in damages."
According to White's lawyers, "Heat Street merely intends to repeat false rumors from tabloids, bloggers and other questionable sources."
White told a Pastors and Leadership Conference in Orlando in 2011 that negative news reports about her were "mostly, totally unfounded" and "lies" by former employees because the church couldn't "supply the staff with the lifestyle that they were used to."
White said she did not sue these people because she didn't know how to go about it.
She also described the congressional investigation into Without Walls as the government trying to stop religious expression, but the probe was actually over whether or not the six churches investigated (including Without Walls) had abused their tax-exempt status.
Lynda Jones, a former special agent for IRS criminal investigations, told Heat Street that Without Walls did not give her the key documents that she requested during Grassley's probe.
"My frustration as an investigator was over the top," Jones recalled. "The reason I couldn’t delve into a lot of those things was because they just balked. They gave us some stuff, but they hid behind their half-priced attorneys."
The New York Times reported in January that the Whites "refused to cooperate with the inquiry, and kept their lavish spending hidden behind tax laws that allowed religious organizations to operate tax-free with little transparency."
White reportedly owns a 1,500-square-foot Trump Park Avenue condo that was valued at $6.5 million in 2014.