Christian Charity Director Used Half-Million Dollars in Donations on 'Sex Addiction'
What would Jesus do? Definitely not this!
Jon S. Petersen, head of Christian charity World Ambassadors, on Monday admitted to embezzling $475,000 in donations between 2010 and 2014, The Associated Press reported. Petersen, who founded the Iowa-based Christian outreach nonprofit in 1993, said he deposited the money into his personal checking account and used it to pay for his "sex addiction" and credit card debt.
He pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return and is awaiting sentencing. According to AP, he faces up to three years in prison and possible restitution to donors.
More details, via The Gazette:
Petersen claimed to struggle with a sex addiction from 2005 to 2015, prosecutors said. Petersen would pay for this addiction through his credit cards, home equity lines of credit and World Ambassadors’ donations.
The number of contributors to World Ambassadors from 2010 to 2014 ranged from 31 to 38 people, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. From January 2010 through December 2014, the nonprofit received total deposits of $476,466. Of those deposits, $475,555 was deposited into Petersen’s personal checking account either by bank transfers or checks payable to himself from that account.
The low donor totals aren't the only indication something was amiss at World Ambassadors. The charity lost its tax-exempt status in 2010, though it remains registered as a nonprofit corporation with the Iowa Secretary of State's Office, AP reported. And the organization barely exists online—in order, the first three Google search results for its name are The Gazette story above, an Iowa business directory with some basic address information, and the website for Whisky Ambassador ("the U.K.'s Only Accredited Whisky Training Program").
What role the charity played in Petersen's misdeeds is unclear, though. Petersen admitted to embezzling funds, but as part of a plea deal he was charged only with tax fraud—not theft. That could be because the charity was an outright scam that authorities lacked the evidence to prove, or it could be that Petersen simply used his position for personal gain after falling into some bad habits. Michael Wyland, writing for Nonprofit Quarterly, speculated further, though the answers remain uncertain.
"The federal prosecution makes no mention of the organization violating the law, or Peterson violating the law in his role as World Ambassador’s executive director—the case centers on Peterson as an individual taxpayer," Wyland wrote. "Did the charity figure into the investigation, or was it merely a source of personal income on which taxes were not paid? What were World Ambassadors’ 30 to 40 annual donors from 2010 to 2014 told about their gifts’ deductibility and the uses of their gifts?"