The Church of Scientology, famed for its shadowy rituals and celebrity followers, received hundreds of thousands of dollars in government-backed coronavirus relief.
Scientology branches in New York, Washington, D.C., and Belleair, Florida, received small business loans of $150,000 to $300,000, according to a full list of recipients released by the U.S. Treasury.
The three churches were among tens of thousands of mosques, synagogues, and other religious institutions to receive forgivable loans as part of the Trump administration’s $2 trillion CARES Act, designed to provide economic relief during the coronavirus pandemic.
The list of religious organizations to receive loans was heavily skewed towards Christian churches, according to a Reuters analysis. Religious organizations accounted for at least 1 million of the 51.1 million jobs protected by the $660 billion program.
Like other small businesses struggling to pay bills and keep staff on payroll, non-profit churches qualified for PPP loans if they had fewer than 500 employees. The loans are written off if the money is spent on eligible costs and staff are retained.
According to the U.S. Treasury data, the Church of Scientology for the Mission of Belleair said its PPP loan saved 98 jobs, while the Church of Scientology of New York said its loan helped to retain 10 jobs.
However, the Founding Church of Scientology of Washington, D.C., said it saved no jobs. In a statement, Church of Scientology spokesperson Karin Pouw claimed the D.C. church “in fact retained 100% of their staff.”
The controversial church, headquartered in Hollywood and espoused by celebs like Tom Cruise and John Travolta, is worth about $1.75 billion, with the majority invested in real estate, according to The Scientology Money Project, a blog run by Jeffrey Augustine, the spouse of a former Scientologist. He estimates annual revenue to be about $200 million.
The church owns dozens of properties worldwide, including property worth a reported $400 million in Los Angeles. In Clearwater, Florida—the so-called spiritual headquarters—the tax-exempt church owns 60 properties worth a reported $168 million.
High-profile former Scientologist Leah Remini claimed in her TV series the church requires a minimum tithe of $250,000.
Among other churches to receive PPP loans was First Baptist Church of Dallas, a megachurch whose pastor is close to Trump. They received a forgivable loan worth $2 million to $5 million.
Catholic Church organizations previously estimated that 9,000 Catholic churches received loans while the Jewish Federations of North America previously told CBS News that 573 Jewish organizations, including 219 synagogues, submitted successful applications.
The Church of Scientology did not provide a comment before deadline but later sent The Daily Beast a letter referring to Remini and Augustine as “a whackjob conspiracy nut and a celebutard, neither of whom knows anything about the Church or its financials.”
“As anyone who knows anything about Scientology can tell you, parishioners make donations for auditing or training they wish to receive. They are not required to tithe or make other donations,” the letter said.
The letter did not answer The Daily Beast’s questions about the PPP loans.