SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — A whistleblower from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints appeared on 60 Minutes to discuss the alleged misuse of church finances on Sunday, May 14.
In 2019, David Nielsen, a former employee of the church’s investment firm Ensign Peak Advisors, claimed the misuse of billions of dollars in tithes — $100 billion to be exact.
On the CBS 60 Minutes show, Nielsen said he turned down an opportunity on Wall Street to work for Ensign Peak because he wanted to help “change the world.”
However he said instead of seeing charity work as he had anticipated, he saw “a clandestine hedge fund,” saying, “once the money went in, it didn’t go out.”
Nielsen explained the church receives around $7 billion yearly from tithing, $6 billion of which is used to pay for buildings and church programs. The remaining $1 billion goes to the investment firm, Ensign Peak.
The interviewer, Sharyn Alfonsi, said some estimates place that fund as high as $150 billion, however, Bishop W. Christopher Waddell who spoke in the interview said he could not confirm nor deny the estimate.
Nielsen said many Ensign Peak employees believe the funds are set aside for the Second Coming. Wadell said the money was not for the Second Coming but to continue church operations into the future.
Nielsen reportedly sent a 74-page letter to the IRS alleging the stockpile and misuse of the tithing money. Nielsen said hundreds of millions were used to bail out businesses with church ties. He also spoke of shell companies that were used to hide the church’s investment decisions.
He claimed one of his superiors told him privately if the assets and decisions were reported under Ensign Peak’s name, rather than the shell companies, it could bring attention that could lead to it losing its tax-exempt status. In the interview, Waddell said lawyers had advised Ensign Peak to create the shell companies.
Nielsen said he filed the letter to the IRS because he wants the Church to pay the taxes it owes. If the IRS investigates and determines he is right, Alfonsi said Nielsen could be rewarded with up to 30% of what’s collected from the Church.
When asked why he was speaking out now he said they have given the IRS and the SEC all the professional courtesy, but “this was too important to fall through the cracks.”
In February of 2023, the SEC charged the church and Ensign Peak Advisors for failing to file forms that would have disclosed the church’s investments, and for instead “filing forms for shell companies that obscured the Church’s portfolio and misstated Ensign Peak’s control over the Church’s investment decisions,” a press release states.
To settle the charges, Ensign Peak agreed to pay a $4 million penalty, while the church itself agreed to pay a $1 million penalty.
Also in February, Nielsen submitted a 90-page memorandum to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee demanding oversight into the church’s finances.
The church addressed the SEC settlement with the following statement:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its affiliated investment manager, Ensign Peak Advisors, Inc., have settled a matter with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Investment managers who oversee a portfolio of public equities above a certain threshold are required to file Forms 13F with the SEC quarterly. These forms publicly disclose the names of the securities and their values.
Since 2000, Ensign Peak received and relied upon legal counsel regarding how to comply with its reporting obligations while attempting to maintain the privacy of the portfolio. As a result, Ensign Peak established separate companies (LLCs) that each filed Forms 13F instead of a single aggregated filing. Ensign Peak and the Church believe that all securities required to be reported were included in the filings by the separate companies.
In June 2019, the SEC first expressed concern about Ensign Peak’s reporting approach. Ensign Peak adjusted its approach and began filing a single aggregated report. Since that time, 13 quarterly reports have been filed in full accordance with SEC requirements.
This settlement relates to how the forms were filed previously. Ensign Peak and the Church have cooperated with the government over a period of time as we sought resolution.
We affirm our commitment to comply with the law, regret mistakes made, and now consider this matter closed.