Lawsuit: Health Plan Accused
Charging numerous instances of fraud and conversion of ministry funds and property to private use, the lawsuit demands return of property and cash valued at more than $2.4 million, and alleges that Hawthorn took larger sums without leaving a paper trail. Montgomery demands $16.3 million in punitive damages, all to go back to Christian Brotherhood, under new leadership.
Bruce Hawthorn, 59, founded Christian Brotherhood Newsletter in 1982 after successfully appealing to fellow Christians to help with his medical bills following a near-fatal car crash. Hawthorn, the son of a Wesleyan Methodist minister, was then operating a rescue mission for alcoholics in Barberton, Ohio.
Christian Brotherhood, billed as "a proven and biblical method for Christians to share one another's medical bills without using insurance of any kind, "grew rapidly and now operates in all 50 states. It publishes subscribers' medical expenses as "needs," which are paid by regular contributions from other subscribers. The organization handles millions of dollars worth of medical bills per month for its estimated 40,000 subscribers. Similar programs have sprung up in its wake (CT, Oct. 2, 2000, p. 24).
Dancer Paid $41,000
Along the way, however, Hawthorn allegedly raided approximately $728,200 from Christian Brotherhood's accounts for cars, a motor home, real estate, an airplane, and cash to benefit himself and family members. The lawsuit also asserts that, beginning in 1996, "defendant Hawthorn engaged in a relationship with Tabitha Ball, then a 21-year-old employee of an exotic dance club." Ball, briefly on the ministry payroll, was also provided free rent, a car, and credit-card payments totaling over $41,000 during the next two years.
The suit contends that this and other such unauthorized spending hampered Christian Brotherhood's ability to keep up with subscribers' medical bills. Recent delays in payment ranged up to 18 months, and as much as $34 million in unpaid needs accumulated.
Among former employees who cooperated with the Ohio investigators were Fe Hawthorn and Judith Bolois. Fe Hawthorn, who is Bruce Hawthorn's stepmother, worked for a decade in Christian Brotherhood's accounting and needs-processing departments. She provided detailed information about millions of dollars "wrongfully transferred" to Bruce Hawthorn and other insiders. Hawthorn said they were skimming $75,000 per month from Christian Brotherhood member claim funds, in addition to numerous irregular "loans" and other payments.
Judith Bolois worked in the subscriber office and, with her family, subscribed to Christian Brotherhood until last spring. "For many years, until the late 1990s, the Christian Brotherhood Newsletter program operated successfully, meeting subscribers' medical needs as they were incurred," she testified.
But then, she said, unpaid claims piled up because of insiders abusing Christian Brotherhood funds. Subscribers complained "about being sent to collection agencies, about having liens placed against their homes, and about the breach of trust that [Christian Brotherhood] had caused," Bolois said.
Hawthorn's office did not return Christianity Today's calls seeking comment.