To some former Tri-City Ministries members, Pastor Carl Herbster’s relationship with Security Savings Bank CEO Don Bell seems like an unholy alliance.

Blessed Are the Moneymakers 

To some former Tri-City Ministries members, Pastor Carl Herbster’s relationship with Security Savings Bank CEO Don Bell seems like an unholy alliance.

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Still, some investors asked for their money. Deposits fell from a peak of $2.5 million to $900,000, the Star reported.

Hawkins, who still attends Tri-City, tells the Pitch that mistakes were made. But he suggests that the more serious accusations were unfounded.

"I will admit no church is perfect, and ours is not," Hawkins says. "But, boy, you'd think from reading this Kansas City Star article that we're ripping off old ladies and we're running a bank and we're just wheeling and dealing and this kind of thing, and it's just unfair."

Hawkins says 850 to 900 people usually attend Sunday worship at Tri-City, down from the 1,050-1,100 range of a few years ago. If Hawkins' understanding of recent events is typical of those who stuck with Tri-City, Herbster has succeeded in casting away questions about his leadership as the complaints of a few disgruntled members.

Hawkins, for example, says the secretary of state's investigation into the sale of church notes found just "one little technical violation that is, in my opinion, pretty minor."

In fact, all of the deposits had to be returned. Herbster signed a consent order with the secretary of state's office last year, which directed the church to steadily refund its outstanding notes and pay a $15,000 fine to a state investor-education fund.

One former Tri-City member calls the church deacons "enablers."

Dave Hawkins occasionally serves as Herbster's pilot.

As much as it has depended on compliant deacons, Herbster's ministry has relied also on evangelicals with deep pockets.

Don Bell became the church's primary lender in 2001, when Tri-City moved its mortgage to Security Savings, securing a $7.7 million note. Tri-City borrowed another $470,000 in 2002 and $1 million in 2003, all from Security Savings.

The church borrowed from other Christian sources, too. FirstFruits Foundation, a Pennsylvania charity that supports Baptist ministries, has lent hundreds of thousands of dollars to Tri-City on different occasions.

The president of FirstFruits is a man named Robert Cone. Cone is the former chairman of Graco Children's Products, a company Cone ran with his brother, Edward, until Graco was sold almost nine years ago.

As Graco owners, the Cones were known for being media-shy and for being devout Baptists. According to published reports, employees broke for prayer regularly at the Graco headquarters in Elverson, Pennsylvania.

The Cones were also known for their enthusiastic support of conservative Christian candidates for public office. The Wall Street Journal was the first to report that the family funneled as much as $1.8 million to accounts controlled by an organization called Triad Management Services.

Triad spent the money on advertisements that aided Republicans before the 1996 election; the donations came to light during a 1997 Senate investigation into campaign finances. The New York Times reported that Triad donors helped Sam Brownback of Kansas -- who sat on the Senate committee investigating the giving and spending -- win his seat by spending $400,000 on ads that painted his Democratic opponent, Jill Docking, as an out-of-state liberal. (Docking, a Wichita investment broker, was raised in Massachusetts.)

For the Cones, supporting conservative Republicans appeared to be a matter of more than faith.

In 1992 Graco recalled 169,000 cradle swings. A 1994 Boston Globe investigation linked the swings to the death of 12 infants and the near suffocation of two dozen others. Graco blamed the fatalities on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, but the Globe reported that the company had settled at least a half-dozen lawsuits.

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