Christ's Household of Faith acts like a deadbeat dad

The St. Paul church has fought for 20 years to avoid paying for a former member's kids

"About a decade of nothing," says Skawski. "The case just sat there while Patricia went about working herself to the bone. And it wasn't until I talked to a friend who knew Joe that we got something going."

Schmidt nods his head humbly. The Minneapolis lawyer works privately in an old, rug-covered office downtown. It's a second-floor suite just above a Buca Di Beppo Italian restaurant. The cackles of lunch-goers can be heard echoing through his walls. He has a short gray beard and glasses. And on this day, he has on thick hiking boots, giving him the appearance of a liberal-arts college professor about to go backpacking.

"When I told him about it," says Skawski, motioning to Schmidt, "he told me that he felt he could win the case. So we worked out a payment plan and, well, here we are today."

From 2001 to 2007, Schmidt battled top-flight corporate lawyers that Christ's Household paid to help in Michael's defense. The battles bounced between the state and appellate courts. Every ruling but one went in favor of Patricia.

Yet the amount owed to her continually changed. One ruling said the calculation of the unpaid support should go back only to 2001; another ruled that Christ's Household had already met its financial obligation (by this time the church had paid nearly $35,946 to Patricia). But Schmidt wanted a ruling that retroactively billed Christ's Household for all unpaid sums back to 1990, and he wanted the ruling to take into consideration interest on the unpaid amount while also reevaluating the income of Michael Rooney if he were working outside Christ's Household.

Schmidt determined, with the help of independent consultant Dick VanWagner, that Michael's salary in October 2004 could be estimated at $55,600. "And that's being conservative," VanWagner adds.

Christ's Household owns and operates numerous for-profit companies revolving around home renovation and construction. They're also a wholesale distributor of silestone, which is used to make kitchen countertops. In addition to its businesses, Christ's Household owns 42 properties in St. Paul's Summit/University neighborhood, according to Ramsey County property records. The combined value of all properties is estimated to exceed $10 million.

The riches allowed the church to fight the case to the bitter end. Lawyers for Christ's Household appealed the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court; both declined to hear it.

By 2008, the Court of Appeals finally rendered the judgment Patricia sought against Christ Household. Eighteen years after the first court case, with nearly every imaginable avenue in the state court system exhausted, the appellate court granted Patricia $234,945.

Back inside the Perkins restaurant, Patricia, John, and Bob finish up their plates. The conversation goes silent before Bob speaks up and says they didn't take the news with much joy. After years of court cases, they're jaded. And for good reason. While the judge ordered Christ's Household to pay, Patricia has yet to see a cent.

     

FROM THE STREET, the headquarters of Christ's Household looks likea building designed by Tim Bur- ton. Wrought iron fencing pens inthe front courtyard while the faded red bricks show the battle scars from Minnesota winters.

Inside the main study, a warm room with tall ceilings and filled with leather-bound religious textbooks, Michael Rooney, decked out in dark-blue Crocs and a leather jacket, sits on a brown sofa. In a recliner next to the couch is Pastor Donald Alsbury, his bald head and white beard offering a bright contrast to his black-and-gold long-sleeved polo. Both men have laptop computers resting on their thighs.

"Wait a second," says Alsbury. "I think I got it."

"Yep. Same here," says Rooney. "I got a connection."

"Just trying to figure out our wi-fi," adds Alsbury.

In the room with Alsbury and Rooney are two other church members: Dennis Simonson, a plump man with a trimmed goatee, and behind him at a solid wooden table, Dan Murphy, a bald man with a yoga build. He's curled over a laptop.

"I'm what you would call the scribe, I guess," says Murphy. "I'll be taking notes of tonight's conversation."

Just to the right of Rooney is Steven Aggregaard, a skinny and youthful-looking man. He's the latest corporate attorney for Christ's Household of Faith.

"Just so you know the procedure," he says, getting the attention of the men. "Everything you say in these types of situations will be on the record."

The men nod and Pastor Alsbury begins to speak without interruption for what seems like a half-hour. His sentences flow into one another effortlessly and make full use of his deep, baritone voice. Entire passages of the Bible roll out of his mouth from memory. He tends to point with his right index finger when addressing a serious issue. And he pauses regularly to ask rhetorical questions, lightening his tone and kicking up the very last syllable of whatever word he's chosen to end on.

While he speaks, Rooney and Simonson silently relax on the couch. It looks as though they're listening to music. They nod every so often at punctuations in his sentences. And when Alsbury finishes his thoughts, Simonson chimes in to translate. "What he's referencing is the book of Acts 2:33-47," he says. "To really understand us it'd be an important section to read."

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