Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But you need to know a bit about the history of John Elleson before you give his organization, Turning The Tide Ministries, any money. Read the attached articles and compare the names of the current leaders -- same guy -- John Elleson. After he and his wife pled no contest to welfare fraud when they were directors of Teen Challenge Hawaii, he simply created a new organization called, Turning The Tide Ministries. Just last evening they came to the Wailua Homesteads and were going door to door hitting both believers and unbelievers up for donations. And unfortunately, because of the heavy press the drug situation is getting on our island, people here are ripe to be picked.
Two years ago this same group was on Kauai soliciting funds and I asked about their association to the indictments and convictions related to Teen Challenge Hawaii. At that time they admitted that there had been a problem, but that the new ministry, Turning The Tide, had new leadership. This was a lie. Then Gene Swindle, an associate of John Elleson's, who I spoke with last night as they were canvassing the Homesteads area told me that the charges were phony and that the charges had been dismissed. Another lie. I have also discovered that as a result of John and Sue Elleson's financial improprieties that John's license as a minister with the Assemblies of God, with whom he was a pastor for many years, was revoked. Despite the information to the contrary on their website, neither the Assemblies of God nor Teen Challenge endorse this ministry.
This morning I called the District Superintendent of the Assemblies of God and spoke at length with Pastor George Nagato who has been directly in charge of dealing with the problems related to John Elleson and the ministry of Turning the Tide Ministries. I was given his permission to relay the following information to you:
- In 2001, John Elleson and his wife were charged with 5 counts of 2nd degree fraud and 1 count of first degree fraud.
- As a matter of policy, the Assembly of God headquarters launched an internal investigation into the charges. At the time, John Elleson was the director of Teen Challenge, a presbyter within the AG denomination and the senior pastor of Wahiawa Assembly of God on Oahu.
- During the AG investigation, Pastor Nagato informed me that John was persistently uncooperative and hostile to the AG investigation and refused to come under the authority of John's oversight body, the Assembly of God Headquarters, and also the local leadership, guided and led by Pastor George
Nagato. In the end, the AG leadership was forced to hire an attorney to finally have John removed as the pastor of Wahiawa Assembly of God.
- Finally, in December of 2002, Pastor John Elleson's ministerial license with the Assemblies of God was revoked and he was dismissed as a pastor from the Assemblies of God denomination.
- Since that time, Pastor Nagato and the local AG churches on Oahu have been dealing with the ongoing slander of John Elleson, his staff and the ministry of Turning The Tide Ministries and cleaning up fall out left by the ungodly actions of John Elleson and the leadership of Turning The Tide Ministries. According to Pastor Nagato, it will be quite some time before the continuing damage subsides.
- Pastor Nagato also communicated to me that anyone supporting John Elleson and/or Turning the Tide Ministries is subject to church discipline within the Assemblies of God. This is a rare and unusual move that gives you an idea of just how bad a situation John and his ministry have created within the AG denomination.
In my communication with Gene Swindle last night on the phone, Gene was very hostile toward me for asking any questions about the history of Turning the Tide Ministries, Teen Challenge and John Elleson's connection with these organizations. He demanded to know, "Who put you in charge of Kauai?" followed by, "You're being used as a tool of the devil to ruin this ministry!" Understandably, Gene is tired of answering these questions about John Elleson and Turning the Tide Ministries. He later apologized for his behavior, but obviously, my concerns were not in any way allayed by his behavior.
My heart is deeply grieved over this situation, but I'm thankful that the Lord allowed has exposed the truth about John and his ministry. I don't know what recourse you may have if you or members of your church have already made contributions to this ministry, but I am going to be forwarding this Email to everyone in our fellowship in order to give them an opportunity to take whatever personal action they deem appropriate.
If any of you have questions regarding this situation, I will do my best to provide you with the answers. My phone number at work is 821-2228 and my home number is 822-3088.
Your brother in Christ,
More Info below:
Wednesday, June 20, 2001
Kokua Line By June Watanabe
Is Teen Challenge a legitimate group?
Question: I recently read the Star-Bulletin story about the minister and his wife who ran Teen Challenge being indicted for fraud. In April someone came to our home in Hawaii Kai and solicited money for Teen Challenge. I wrote a check to them, which has since been cashed. Is there really a Teen Challenge, or is this a scam?
Answer: Teen Challenge Hawaii is part of an international Teen Challenge organization and continues to operate in Honolulu, although the state Attorney General's Office last month brought charges against its executive director, the Rev. John Elleson, and his wife, Suzanne.
The Ellesons are accused of fraudulently obtaining welfare and food stamp benefits from the state in connection with the operation of their organization.
The case against the Ellesons was investigated by the state Department of Human Services.
Teen Challenge is a religious organization designed to help people recover from drug and alcohol addiction, said James Barker, supervisor for the department's investigation division.
"Is it a legitimate organization?" Barker asked, in response to our question. "Yes, it is. Is it a regulated one? No, because they are not a licensed drug and alcohol treatment facility."
Teen Challenge does not need a license because it does not actually provide treatment for drug and alcohol abuse at its facility, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health said.
We tried contacting the national organization but got no response, then called Teen Challenge Hawaii and was referred to local attorney Dennis O'Connor.
O'Connor said the organization is "operating and in the business of taking teenagers or people just a little above teenage and cleaning them up as far as drug use" and other things are concerned.
"To my knowledge it is not a scam," O'Connor said, although he said he did not know that the organization was not a licensed treatment facility.
One handy resource to check on various charities or companies is the Better Business Bureau of Hawaii, which has reports on both members and nonmembers (call 536-6956).
Teen Challenge Hawaii was started in December 1999 as a local charity, according to the BBB's recorded message on the organization. However, because it did not provide requested information about its programs, finances, governance and fund-raising policies, "the bureau does not have sufficient information to issue a philanthropic advisory service report."
The BBB, which "does not evaluate the worthiness of a charitable program," said information provided by Teen Challenge's executive director "stated that Teen Challenge is under the Assemblies of God Church, and they annually are certified through them."
The BBB files show one complaint against Teen Challenge and a response that "they are governed by a religious church order and are guided by confidentiality laws and are unable to address the issues raised in the complaint."
Thursday, May 31, 2001
Minister, wife indicted for welfare fraud
The Teen Challenge rehab program operators stand accused of stealing their clients' benefits
By Debra Barayuga
A Mililani couple who ran the Christian-oriented nonprofit Teen Challenge have been indicted by an Oahu grand jury for fraudulently obtaining welfare and food stamp benefits from the state.
The Rev. John D. Elleson, 39, and his wife, Suzanne M. Elleson, 39, were charged yesterday with five counts of second-degree theft and one count of first-degree theft as accomplices.
Circuit Judge Richard Perkins confirmed bail at $10,000 for John Elleson and $5,000 for Suzanne Elleson.
Teen Challenge was a rehabilitation program to help teens 17 and older get off drugs and alcohol. The Central Oahu site had about 30 male clients in drug rehabilitation who live there for about a year.
An investigation revealed that between July 1998 and September 2000, the Ellesons received public assistance benefits as a family but failed to disclose substantial income, said Deputy Attorney General Rick Damerville.
Their income came primarily from checks written on their nonprofit corporate accounts to their personal bank accounts, Damerville said.
The amount of benefits the Ellesons received ranged in excess of $1,000 to $12,350.
They also are accused of obtaining about $74,000 in food stamp benefits by falsely representing to the Department of Human Services that their clients were preparing and eating food separately, when they were not, Damerville said.
Under food stamp laws, if a group of people unrelated to each other live in a household and eat together, they do not qualify for food stamps. If they eat separately, each individual will be looked at to see if he qualifies for benefits.
The investigation also revealed that as soon as their clients reached 18, the Ellesons sent them to apply for public assistance and disability benefits.
After they qualified, their clients were required to turn over their electronic benefits transfer, or EBT, cards to Suzanne Elleson, or else they were kicked out of the program, Damerville said.
One of the teens complained to officials that they were being made to turn over their benefits, resulting in the investigation, Damerville said.
At a bail hearing yesterday, Damerville said the teens told investigators that after they applied for public assistance, they were shipped off to a Christian college in Chicago to solicit donations for Teen Challenge. They were allegedly told not to inform Department of Human Services income maintenance workers that they were no longer in Hawaii.
While the students were in Chicago, the Ellesons withdrew money using the students' EBT cards. The investigation turned up bank surveillance camera photos of Suzanne Elleson making transactions using the cards.
A woman who answered the telephone at the Ellesons' home refused to identify herself, said she did not know anything about the matter and would not comment.
Friday, December 20, 2002
Mililani couple plead no contest to fraud
A Mililani couple who ran the Christian-oriented Teen Challenge have pleaded no contest to a charge that they fraudulently obtained welfare and food stamp benefits from the state.
The Rev. John Elleson, executive director of the now-defunct Hawaii organization that helped teens recover from drug and alcohol addiction, pleaded no contest to one count of first-degree theft and has asked for a deferral of his plea.
His wife, Suzanne Elleson, pleaded no contest to one count of second-degree theft and was granted a deferral of her no-contest plea for three years.
The state had alleged that Teen Challenge had benefited from welfare funds to which it was not entitled.
The couple accepted responsibility yesterday and agreed to refund more than $49,000 in excess welfare benefits that the organization benefited from, said Earle Partington, attorney for Suzanne Elleson.
"Most of it was a lack of understanding of the welfare laws, and they weren't the greatest of bookkeepers," Partington said.
John Elleson will be sentenced Feb. 9 and is likely to be granted a deferral, he said.
The theft count that the couple pleaded to related to the way their clients in Teen Challenge ate their meals, he said. Under the state's welfare laws, if the teens ate together, they would have been entitled to fewer benefits than had they ate separately. Some of them ate together and it was not reported.
Partington said the remaining five theft charges against the couple were dismissed, in large part because the Ellesons had not profited personally from the money.
State Attorney General Rick Damerville acknowledged Suzanne Elleson was not likely to commit any crimes in the future, and recommended a deferral of her plea but wanted to send a message that people need to follow the law, Partington said.