Two Indiana cousins are fighting for control of a multimillion-dollar Christian media empire started by their grandfather, trading accusations of deceit, corporate malfeasance, harassment and abuse.
Lester L. Sumrall and Andrew Sumrall both want control of what one lawsuit claims could be $1 billion in donations that have flowed into the Lester Sumrall Evangelistic Association since the death of their grandfather, Lester Sumrall, in 1996, The Indianapolis Star reported.
The late Lester Sumrall stepped into a pulpit for the first time when he was 17. At age 19, he was named pastor of a large interdenominational church in Arkansas. His ministry led him to South Bend in 1947.
He was founder of Lester Sumrall Evangelical Association, Feed the Hungry, LeSEA Publishing and LeSEA Broadcasting, which included 11 television and radio stations, and he served as pastor of Christian Center Cathedral of Praise.
A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Andrew Sumrall last year accuses his cousin of pursuing a “false claim to be the ‘rightful spiritual and legal heir’ of LeSEA.” It accuses Lester L. Sumrall of engaging in “a long pattern of abusive, harassing, and unlawful conduct against LeSEA and his own family members.”
The May 2018 lawsuit claims Lester L. Sumrall even interfered in his cousin’s divorce proceedings.
In response, Lester L. Sumrall accuses Andrew Sumrall, who runs the evangelist nonprofit organization, of deceiving donors and being involved in corporate malfeasance while overseeing LeSEA.
LeSEA shares the gospel through ministries served by two radio and six television stations, including WHME in South Bend and WHMB TV40 in Indianapolis. Donations generated by LeSEA support local church-based outreach, a bookstore and World Harvest Bible College in South Bend, and funds a relief arm the organization says “has delivered more than $200 million in food and supplies to hungry, hurting people in 92 nations around the world.”
The LeSEA founder’s namesake said his grandfather designated him a successor, and that he has a document to prove it. But when his grandfather died, his uncles conspired to hide the will and seize control of LeSEA, Lester L. Sumrall alleged.
Andrew “Drew” Sumrall said Lester L. Sumrall’s claims are baseless.
“l look forward to presenting the absurdity of Lester Leonard’s claims in federal court,” Andrew Sumrall said in a statement to The Star. “These actions are plainly frivolous attempts to create controversy by individuals who have absolutely no affiliation to LeSEA.”
SOURCE: The Associated Press