“We regretfully have not been given any options, in that Franklin has used our work to fundraise and has refused to send the money,” Evans wrote The Washington Post on Wednesday, alleging Franklin acted “exploitatively” toward survivors.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, accuses Franklin of fraud and conspiracy, and alleges Franklin was “trading on Evans’ personal reputation and credibility in Israel” and using him to meet influential Israelis.
Franklin is head of the 14,000-member Free Chapel church, based in Gainesville, Ga.
Evans’s accusations are “absurdly false,” Darrell D. Miller, an attorney representing Franklin and Free Chapel, told The Post in a statement. “Our clients have not misappropriated a single penny from Mike Evans, his organization or any other charitable endeavors."
In a September motion to dismiss Evans’s suit, Franklin argued that whatever agreement the two men had was not an enforceable contract and that Evans would have no standing to sue anyway because any money was meant for Holocaust survivors and not Evans. Franklin said in the motion that he has visited Israel on his own for years, donated to other charitable projects there, has his own networks in Israel and didn’t need Evans.
“The value received by Pastor Franklin and his ministry is the knowledge that they are doing God’s work,” the motion reads.
Evans and his lawyers, the motion continues, “contend that any Christian ministry that agrees to participate in a humanitarian project abroad must continue to do so even if other humanitarian needs are greater in different parts of the world.”
One of Franklin’s lawyers, Andrew Brettler, told The Post that the millions raised by Franklin went to Evans, fundraising costs and other groups in Israel working on similar causes.
Several members of Trump’s advisory board, according to Evans, reached out to offer to help him settle the suit with Franklin. The board is an informal group of evangelicals who advise a president they see as supportive of their key causes: minimal oversight and limits on religious organizations, social conservatism, and support for Israel’s government.
Evans and his lawyer told The Post there is no written contract; their suit characterizes the deal as “valid and enforceable.” Franklin’s motion says there simply was no contract but instead an “unenforceable agreement.” The project is attached to a Jerusalem museum that Evans runs to promote non-Jewish supporters of Israel. The museum is called Friends of Zion and is a campus of eight or nine buildings.
The two men have been advisers on Trump’s evangelicals-only faith advisory body since 2016, and Franklin’s son, Drake, serves as faith outreach director for the Trump campaign.
Starting in 2017, Franklin advertised and fundraised on his website and through his televangelism ministry, Kingdom Connections, for Holocaust survivors. The ads used images of Evans’s property or showed images of the two men together touring in Jerusalem.
The men’s relationship turned sour in the summer of 2019, Evans says. That is when a representative of Franklin’s church, according to an email exchange provided by Evans’s attorney Nir Kimhi, emailed Kimhi with a list of donors whose names Franklin wanted put on a “donor wall” at the museum.
“Please see attached names for Holocaust Survivors Wall,” reads the email from an employee at Free Chapel.
Attached to the email were Excel spreadsheets listing 4,216 donors who gave $1,000 and 33 who gave $10,000, for a total of more than $4.5 million.
Realizing Franklin had raised far more than he knew, Evans demanded the rest of the money, according to the lawsuit and letters between lawyers for the two sides this spring. A June 2020 letter from one of Franklin’s lawyers to Evans’s characterizes their deal differently, saying Franklin initially agreed to give Evans $1 million and wound up giving him $1.2 million, and that the remainder of funds went to creating ads and buying television airtime for them for many months.
In exchange, “he received Mr. Evans’ true show of gratitude in the form of the erroneous and baseless claims made in your letter,” wrote attorney Anthony Kennedy. A simple thank you “would have sufficed.”
Evans and his lawyers say the men’s agreement from the start was that all fundraising related to survivors would go to Churches United With Israel, a Texas nonprofit Evans runs. Evans launched the new Jerusalem project through Churches United, according to his July lawsuit.
Evans’s suit also accuses Franklin of falsely claiming in his ads that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was behind his work with survivors.
In a promotional fundraising video for money for survivors, Franklin says Netanyahu and his wife know about his work, “and even have sent special messages to us to let us know that this is their very heart.”
A source in Netanyahu’s office told The Post that the prime minister was not aware his name was being used by Franklin to raise money and that he had not endorsed Franklin’s work.
In June, Franklin also began running a fundraising video and a blog item on his site featuring the prime minister’s son, Yair Netanyahu, distributing care packages to survivors. The video, entitled “Yair Netanyahu delivers care packages to Holocaust Survivors for Jentezen Franklin,” is set to somber music and shows a masked Netanyahu bringing boxes with “Jentezen Franklin” stickers to emotionally moved survivors.
Sources close to Yair Netanyahu told The Post he was unaware he was being used to fundraise for Franklin. He was volunteering for Yad Ezer, the sources said, and hadn’t intend to endorse Franklin.
Letters from Yad Ezer gave permission to Franklin to work with their fundraising materials, some of which included images of the Netanyahus.
Shimon Sabag, chairman of Yad Ezer, the country’s largest residence for Holocaust survivors, told The Post in a letter that the group was unaware until recently that the two men had a dispute and that both are “righteous, faithful and devoted.”
Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this report.