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Crystal Cathedral looks to donations

Church hopes to raise $50 million. Creditors push forward with plans to sell campus.

August 02, 2011|Nicole Santa Cruz

The bankrupt Crystal Cathedral will continue to rely on a faith-based approach to emerging from Chapter 11 while the creditors committee works on a separate exit plan for the church, lawyers said in court Monday.

The church's leadership announced Sunday that it no longer wants to sell the Garden Grove campus to pay off more than $50 million in debt and instead would attempt to raise that amount through donations. On Monday, the church's website proclaimed, "Be part of the miracle. Stand with Crystal Cathedral."

Mark Winthrop, the cathedral's bankruptcy attorney, reaffirmed in court that the church's board, which was reorganized last week, is relying on a "faith-generated belief" that funds will come through.

He said board members understand that the creditors committee will move forward and could file a plan in the next week.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, August 03, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Crystal Cathedral: In an article detailing a bankruptcy hearing involving the Crystal Cathedral in the Aug. 2 LATExtra section, attorney Marc Winthrop's first name was misspelled as Mark.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, August 06, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Crystal Cathedral: In the Aug. 2 LATExtra section, an article on a Crystal Cathedral bankruptcy hearing reported that a possible new suitor, Robert Lee Tran Truong, has been known to appear at political events for Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen. Truong attended those events but did not appear on behalf of Nguyen.

Founder Robert H. Schuller, his wife, Arvella, and their daughter, Carol Schuller Milner, attended the hearing but did not comment.

Schuller Milner said later that her father will do everything he can to help raise the money needed, and called him "a champion."

The church would file a separate proposal if it raises the money before a creditors plan is confirmed by bankruptcy Judge Robert Kwan, Winthrop said, adding that the church has a duty to make "our best efforts to make sure" all creditors are paid.

Nanette Sanders, the creditors' lawyer, said the committee is "fine-tuning" a plan but did not name a potential buyer.

The next hearing is scheduled for Sept. 14.

So far, several offers have been made public, including $46-million bids from Greenlaw Partners, a real estate investment group, and from nearby Chapman University. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange and My Father's House Church International have proposed $50 million.

Officials with Chapman, the diocese and My Father's House Church all said their offers stand; officials from Greenlaw did not return requests for comment.

But an intriguing new bidder emerged at Monday's hearing in Santa Ana. Sanders told the court she had been approached before the hearing by a man -- later identified as Robert Lee Tran Truong of Garden Grove -- who made an informal offer of $99 million.

After the hearing, Truong, 72, told The Times he wants to purchase the church and its grounds to use as a ministry and for his nonprofit God's Way Institute, a church and a school. He also suggested he might use the campus for commercial purposes, mentioning a mall as one possibility.

Truong, who says he is a descendant of royalty in Vietnam, is not well-known in the Vietnamese community here, said Hao-Nhien Vu, associate editor in chief for the Nguoi Viet Daily News, a paper in Little Saigon with a circulation of about 16,000.

According to Vu, Truong has been known to appear at political events for Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen and former Assemblyman Van Tran, and has purchased ads in the Nguoi Viet Daily News in which he calls himself a billionaire.

"I haven't seen anything that actually shows he is a billionaire," Vu said.

Truong's lawyer did not return a request for comment.

Also attending Monday's hearing was Fred Southard, the Crystal Cathedral's former chief financial officer. He retired in January after his $132,000 tax-exempt housing allowance was questioned by the U.S. Trustee in court.

Southard said he had doubts that the church, which is home to the TV program "Hour of Power," could raise $50 million.

"I don't know how you contact enough people to pull this off," he said.

Milner Schuller said she too had doubts until her mother said that the church only needs $500 from 100,000 people, which she calculated as 2% of "Hour of Power" viewers.

"That's what really made me feel like it's doable," she said.

Bob Canfield of Yorba Linda, who is involved with an online petition to rid the church's board of Schuller family members, called the church's new plan "impossible."

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nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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