UPDATE: 6:30 p.m. ET Dec. 3: Houston Police have confirmed that evidence from checks recovered from a wall inside Lakewood Church last month suggests they are connected to March 2014 theft from the Joel Osteen-led megachurch reported to have been about $600,000.
Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, confirmed Friday the discovery of an undisclosed sum of cash and checks that a plumber allegedly found stacked inside a wall at the church seven years after some $600,000 was reported stolen from a church safe.
“Recently, while repair work was being done at Lakewood Church, an undisclosed amount of cash and checks were found. Lakewood immediately notified the Houston Police Department and is assisting them with their investigation. Lakewood has no further comment at this time,” the church said in a statement to The Christian Post.
An unidentified plumber revealed that he found the money while working at the church on Nov. 10 during the radio morning show at 100.3 The Bull hosted by George Lindsey.
“It was just unbelievable, the things he was telling us that they found in the walls,” Lindsey told Click 2 Houston.
The plumber said he was shocked when about 500 envelopes fell out of a wall as he tried to remove a loose toilet.
“There was a loose toilet in the wall, and we removed the tile,” he said. “We went to go remove the toilet, and I moved some insulation away and about 500 envelopes fell out of the wall, and I was like, ‘Oh wow!’”
He said he reached out to the church’s maintenance supervisor and turned in the money.
“We were like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Lindsey said after hearing what the plumber had done. “So, then he relayed to us that in 2014 there was a big story about money being stolen from Lakewood Church that they never recovered.”
In March 2014, The Houston Chronicle reported that $200,000 in cash and $400,000 in checks were stolen from the church’s safe. The church had been working with the Houston Police Department to solve the case.
According to church officials at the time, the stolen money was “fully insured,” and the church had worked with their insurance company to recover the loss.
It was unclear Friday if the funds found by the plumber in the wall are connected to the money that went missing in 2014.
The financial find also comes weeks after Lakewood Church announced that they had started paying back some $4.4 million from the federal government’s coronavirus relief program for small businesses known as the Paycheck Protection Program. The church previously came under fire for accepting the money.
“Lakewood, its employees and their families are grateful for the temporary assistance received from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) during such a time of need. Like many organizations temporarily shuttered by the pandemic, this loan provided Lakewood Church short-term financial assistance in 2020 ensuring that its approximately 350 employees and their families would continue to receive a paycheck and full health care benefits,” Lakewood said in an October statement.
“At no point did Lakewood seek forgiveness of its PPP loan. Since January 2021, Lakewood has made advance payments on its PPP obligation.”
Churches of all denominations received an estimated $6 billion to $10 billion of the $659 billion that funded the PPP over two rounds under the CARES Act, according to a July 2020 analysis by Ministry Watch.