BY CHARLIE FRAGO
JANUARY 23, 2011
NEW ORLEANS — In the year that wind and water devastated New Orleans, a small charity affiliated with the 6.5 million-member Church of God in Christ promised to raise and distribute $1 million to Hurricane Katrina victims.
Cash poured into Memphis-based COGIC Charities like never before — nearly $1.5 million in 2005, Internal Revenue Service forms show.
Current Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, who was born in central Arkansas, handed out $100 bills to Katrina survivors in Los Angeles shortly after the disaster.
But more than five years after the waters receded — and five years after the money was raised — COGIC Charities hasn’t kept its promise to give away $1 million to Hurricane Katrina survivors, its own documents show.
Meanwhile, COGIC congregations in New Orleans are still struggling to rebuild. Longtime members wonder why COGIC Charities is still holding on to hundreds of thousands of dollars in Katrina-era aid that was long ago promised, but never delivered.
In all, $663,140 has been given to Katrina and Rita hurricane survivors and charities in storm-ravaged communities stretching from Alabama to Texas, the church says. An additional $37,097 has been distributed to contractors who went to hurricane-ravaged communities to assess the damage, according to tax filings.
As of Dec. 31, 2009, a little more than $1 million sat in COGIC Charities’ bank accounts, according to tax filings — nearly double the amount that was there before the 2005 storm. But it can’t be determined how much of that money was donated for Katrina relief: The tax filings don’t say and, so far, charity officials have been unable to provide answers either.
It may never be known why so much of the money raised in 2005 and 2006 never found its way to the Gulf Coast. The man who kept the books, signed some of the tax returns and made a lot of the promises — Presiding Bishop Gilbert E. Patterson — died in 2007.
What is known is that much of the money was given to 109 pastors with few — if any — strings attached. Another 10 pastors turned the money down, according to a 2008 internal church report.