Last month a federal judge ordered 95-year-old Cuyahoga Falls televangelist Ernest Angley, above, to pay more than $388,000 (£299,000) in damages and back wages to a group of employees forced to work at Angley’s Cathedral Buffet as unpaid volunteers.
Following the court order Angley announced that he was shutting the buffet.
US District Judge Benita Pearson said that Angley and his managers at Cathedral Buffet encouraged members of his church, Grace Cathedral, to work at the buffet without pay. The for-profit restaurant used volunteers to save money and the volunteers felt pressured to provide free labour. The judge wrote:
The volunteers’ work was clearly integral to the Buffet’s operations, in that they did work that was necessary to the operation of a restaurant, such as cleaning, bussing tables, stocking the buffet, chopping vegetables, and operating the cash registers. It is hard to fathom that a restaurant could operate without such work being completed.
The Labor Department filed a lawsuit against Angley and the buffet in 2015 following an investigation spurred by an article in the Akron Beacon Journal. Its lawsuit said Angley and the buffet violated the Fair Labor Standards Act through its use of volunteers and did not document the volunteers’ work.
Angley maintains he and the buffet staff did nothing wrong and that the claims put forth by the government violate the First Amendment.
The Labor Department also cited Angley in 1999 for the same thing. The buffet paid $37,000 in back wages at the time and agreed to comply with labour laws.
Of the amount Pearson assessed against Angley and the buffet, half will go towards back wages of the employees, while the other half were assessed as damages, since the judge determined the defendants acted in “bad faith” by reverting back to using unpaid labour.
Pearson noted in her findings that members of Angley’s flock testified that they felt pressured into volunteering at the buffet.
In his announcements, Reverend Angley would suggest that Church members had an obligation to provide their labor to the Buffet, in service to God, and that a failure to offer their labor to the Buffet – or to refuse to respond to phone calls … seeking volunteers – would be the same as failing God.
Following the Labor Department’s 1999 investigation, Angley and his supervisors appeared to comply with the law. At some point, though, Angley told his staff that workers would need to return their pay cheques due to financial hardships at the buffet.
Two volunteers testified they still had to pay taxes on the cheques they returned.
Pearson was unpersuaded by arguments from Angley that the buffet served a religious purpose.
Angley is no stranger to controversy. In 1999, his ministry paid $100,000 to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the family of a teenage girl, Cassandra Blondheim, 15, who worked as a volunteer at the restaurant. She was stabbed to death by a fellow church member, Shane Partin, who received a sentence of 15 years to life in prison. Prosecutors said Partin, then 27, was angry that the 15-year-old girl rejected him.
In the lawsuit, Blondheim’s family members said Partin was merely reprimanded after the girl’s initial complaints of sexual harrassment. After she complained a second time, Partin was fired but later allowed to come back and volunteer at the restaurant.
In 2014 Crooks and Liars reported that former members Angley’s Grace Cathedral accused him of forcing them to have abortions and vasectomies. And they said that he sexually abused boys in the church, which he denied.
In the first part of a six-part series, the Akron Beacon Journal said that church members had provided it with a recording of a recent church service where Angley addressed accusations that he had inappropriately touched a former pastor.
I’m not a homosexual. God wouldn’t use a homosexual like he uses me. He calls me his prophet, and indeed I am. They called Jesus a homosexual, did you know that? And still do. Because he was with men.
Angley conceded that he had examined male congregants’ genitals to see how well their vasectomies had gone.
They had their misgivings. Sure, I’d have them uncover themselves, but I did not handle them at all.
Becky Roadman, who left the church, told the paper that:
None of us have kids because he makes all the men get fixed. You’re not allowed to have babies there.
Angley also pushed women to have abortions, according to multiple former members. One of those who left, Angelia Oborne, said that Angley advised a friend to think of the foetus inside her as:
A tumor. She was four months pregnant and she sat in the [abortion clinic] waiting room and told her baby that she was so sorry that she was doing this. I know another girl — she won’t come forward — but she was forced into having four abortions.
Greg Mulkey was a prominent member of the church, and featured on Angley’s TV broadcasts as a singer in the Hallelujahs. He said that Angley had a selfish motive for discouraging children.
He doesn’t want people to have kids because it would take their time and money away from the church. He really forced people into abortions through scare tactics, as if he were a medical doctor. It turns my stomach.
In the second part of the series, the Beacon Journal talked to Shane McCabe, who said he was molested by Angley.
“I was sexually abused there,” McCabe said, recalling that Angley “basically blew me off” when he confronted him about it years later.
He asked if I had told anybody. I said no. He said, ‘Let’s keep it a secret. This is the way we need to handle it because God’s mercy is great’.
The paper asked Angley why he counseled church members to keep quiet about abuse by him or others. He replied:
They shouldn’t talk about it, but they can do something about it. But they ought not to spread it abroad, you know, because that hurts others.