A local pastor with a history of lawsuits, tax liens and bankruptcy is under fire from parishioners for questionable financial dealings, and may have been operating illegally after his church's corporation was suspended in 2009 for failure to pay taxes.
On Monday, members of Pastor Jerry Hanoum’s Mountain View Christian Center (MVCC) staff removed supplies and materials as Oakley Union Elementary School District (OUESD) workers changed the locks on seven rooms at Almond Grove School, which is currently being leased by MVCC and Trinity Christian School. Superintendent Rick Rogers said the church had violated a promise made in January to vacate the rooms as part of a deal to reduce the monthly rent from $19,250 to $12,000. Church officials ignored an e-mail from Rogers in early March, and a 48-hour notice to vacate the rooms that was e-mailed Friday, Rogers said. About 75 students were relocated to other rooms as the result of the room closures.
“Unfortunately, this is just another example of Mountain View violating the terms of their lease agreement,” said Rogers. MVCC and Trinity have occupied Almond Grove School since 2008. Their lease expires in June. Rogers said there had been no request by MVCC to extend the original lease agreement. “With only three months left on the lease, our best course of action is to simply let the lease runs its natural course so the students at Mountain View are not harmed.”
MVCC has frequently fallen behind in rent payments, reaching a maximum of $156,000 in arrears last year. After making several promises to pay, Hanoum sent a letter to Rogers on Oct. 5 apologizing for another delay, but assuring him the money was in hand.
“Since our last meeting our funds have been deposited and are in our bank,” Hanoum wrote. “They are going through USA and international bank regulation checks, which is required by the security exchange commission (sic) along with other federal regulations.” He closed, “Please be patient as we are subject to these regulation checks, but our funds have been deposited.”
But the following day, Hanoum sent a letter to the congregation saying the church was still in “a crisis situation” and in “dire need” of contributions to pay the rent. Many construction workers had been laid off, his letter said, and “This has affected us to the place that the city school board (sic) is threatening to take our facility. We need to raise $400,000 to catch up this year and take care of next year’s facility cost.”
This week, Hanoum declined to answer questions about the international investment or why, with that money “in our bank,” $400,000 more was needed. “I can’t speak to any of that because that is privy information to our membership,” Hanoum said.
MVCC has since paid $175,000 for rent through the end of 2010, but nothing has yet been paid for 2011. The total rent from January through June would be $72,000.
Hanoum, 61, opened Mountain View Christian Center in Brentwood in 2005, serving as pastor and president of the 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation. The other officers were his wife Sharon (they divorced in 2009) as the secretary, and Brentwood resident and contractor Jerry Dellinger as chief financial officer.
Prior to coming to Brentwood, Hanoum ran San Diego International Christian Centers, Inc., which declared bankruptcy in 2000, defaulting on $1.5 million. A contributing factor, Hanoum said, was his first wife Yvonne’s cancer.
“At the time of the bankruptcy we owned a building in downtown San Diego, but when she got sick we weren’t able to keep up with the payments,” he said. Yvonne died in 2002, said Hanoum, and his creditors were repaid. “I eventually paid it all off. It’s all been taken care of.” He said he did not recall dates or amounts paid and did not provide documentation.
According to records filed with the California Secretary of State, the state Franchise Tax Board first suspended MVCC for non-payment of taxes in 2006, reinstating it the same year. A second corporate suspension came in September of 2009 for failure to file a required annual statement of corporate officers for three years and for unpaid corporate taxes.
The first problem was rectified in 2010, when the corporation reported changing its officers to Jerry Dellinger (president), his brother Scott Dellinger (secretary) and Dustin Hanoum (chief financial officer).
The back taxes owed to the FTB, however, have not been paid. As a result, the church’s status as a nonprofit corporation has been suspended for a year and a half.
When asked about MVCC’s suspended status, Hanoum said he had just learned that the corporation had indeed been suspended.
“We did get our state license suspended,” said Hanoum. “But everything is fine. We can still operate.”
Dellinger agreed. “I do know that the state has suspended us due to payroll taxes,” he said. “I don’t know for how much but I do know it’s a pretty nice number. But federally we’re fine, we’re OK.”
The status of the organization with the federal government was unclear as of press time, but according to the the State of California, when a corporation is suspended it has lost all of its rights and privileges and cannot legally operate.
The opulent, 5-acre Hanoum Estate on Knarlwood Road in Oakley, privately leased since 2005 by Hanoum under the auspices of the MVCC, has been showcased as an event center and retreat for ministers and their families. Financing for the construction and development of the property – it includes two lakes with fountains, gazebos, four garages and a 19,000-square-foot main building with sleeping quarters for 10 - was gathered in large part through donations from the MVCC congregation and private investors.
Art Mijares, a former member of the MVCC and vice principal of the church’s school in Brentwood, was approached by Hanoum with an offer to invest in the venue in 2005. According to Mijares, Hanoum solicited a select group of MVCC members to invest $100,000 each in the project with promises of a 12-percent return within three years.
“Jerry (Hanoum) approached me and said for $100,000 he could let me in on this deal,” said Mijares. “I said I didn’t have that kind of money and he asked me how much did I have. I told him I had $25,000 but was saving that for my daughter’s wedding. He told me that if I invested that money with him, then they would do my daughter’s wedding at the Hanoum Estate for free.”
Mijares declined the offer and said it was not long afterward that he was told there would no longer be a place for him on the MVCC staff. But Mijares said there were others who did invest and have yet to see a return.
“I said no, but other people I know did give him money and I know one person who went to court and got some of his money back. But there are others who weren’t as lucky. In my eyes, the ministry is going downhill financially and morally.”
Most recently the property has been used by Hanoum and MVCC as a safe house and retreat for the families and victims of child and sexual abuse. Hanoum has also launched the Hunted Child website and video series, designed to provide information to families about child predators for a membership fee of $4.95.
The goal of Hunted Child, according to the website, includes bringing a bill before Congress entitled The Mark for Mark Act. “With the passing of this bill, every person who has been convicted of harming a child will be required to have a Mark on his or her name and/or body, to identify that individual as a danger to children,” the site states. “An abused child carries a Mark on his or her life forever. It is time to put a Mark on those who have Marked our children. The mark can be removed only when that individual has gone though treatment and extensive counseling and has proven beyond doubt to be responsible.” Even were the Mark removed, the site states, the individual would still wear a GPS device for the rest of his or her life.
In February, the Hanoum Estate property went into foreclosure, and Hanoum said that while the ministry is struggling to stay afloat, he feels confident Hanoum Estate will remain a place where the families and victims of child and sexual abuse can seek refuge.
“We’ve put a program together where families can come and stay and heal,” said Hanoum. “And we’re not going to let that go … We know that we are in a situation where we need to take care of some things and we are not going to quit until we do. We are taking care of so many people who are hurting. We’re just doing what we can to help them heal and move on.”
When asked to comment on the foreclosure proceedings and what it might mean to MVCCs future, Hanoum was less forthcoming. “I won’t comment no more,” he said, “because you are getting into areas I’m not comfortable talking about.”