‘The Family’ May Have Violated Tax Law, Ohio Clergy Group Tells IRS

A group of 13 pastors in Ohio has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate a shadowy Religious Right group known as “The Family,” asserting that the tax-exempt organization might have accepted funding from an entity linked to terrorism.

The eight-page complaint, filed Oct. 12 by Clergy Voice, maintains that The Family, through its affiliate Fellowship Foundation, allegedly received money from a suspected terrorist organization to pay for overseas trips for members of Congress.

The Fellowship Foundation is best known for sponsoring the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. It also owns a boarding house for members of Congress in the nation’s capital. The so-called “C Street House,” located on C Street, S.E. on Capitol Hill, became the focus of attention during the summer of 2009 when several of its current and former residents became embroiled in sex scandals. (See “Behind the Green Door,” September 2009 Church & State.)

Clergy Voice had previously asked the IRS to investigate the tax-exempt status of the C Street House, which is listed as a church for tax purposes, even though it does not host regular services and functions as living space. The new complaint alleges that the Fellowship Foundation accepted two $25,000 checks from a group called the Islamic American Relief Agency (IARA) in 2004, even though IARA was named by a Senate committee as a financier of terrorism.

Mubarak Hamed, chief executive of the IARA, said he sent the money to the Foundation to pay for lobbying efforts by Mark Siljander, a former congressman. Siljander had told IARA that he would help get it off the terror list.

Earlier this year, Siljander pleaded guilty to serving as an unregistered agent for a foreign entity and lying to federal officials about it. Hamed has also pleaded guilty in the matter.

Government officials maintain that Siljander knew the money was coming from Sudan and used the Fellowship Foundation to handle the funds.

A federal indictment of Siljander notes that the ex-congressman directed the Fellowship Foundation to transfer $25,000 of the funds to his bank account. However, the Foundation sent only $18,337. It is unclear what happened to the rest of the money, but Clergy Voice suggests that it remained in the Fellowship Foundation’s accounts, where it might have been used to finance the overseas travel.

The Fellowship Foundation has maintained its innocence. Richard Carver, president of the Foundation, told The Columbus Dispatch that all of the money went to Siljander. He denied Clergy Voice’s charge that some of the money ended up financing overseas trips for members of Congress.

“We didn’t know it was a terrorist organization, and we didn’t think [Siljander] would do something like that,” Carver said.

But Marcus Owens, a Washington, D.C., attorney and former IRS official who advises Clergy Voice, said it was odd that Siljander had so much influence over the Fellowship Foundation that he could dictate money transfers to the group.

“[The Foundation] served as a conduit for a non-charitable purpose, and apparently there were no questions asked as to why the money had to be routed through the Fellowship Foundation as opposed to going to Siljander directly,” Owens said.