This Sunday’s edition of “60 Minutes” will lead off with a report about the finances of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and will feature an on-camera interview with a former senior portfolio manager from the faith’s investment wing who turned whistleblower.
David A. Nielsen — who filed a complaint in late 2019 with the IRS accusing the Utah-based faith of amassing a $100 billion reserve fund intended for, but never spent on, charity in potential violation of tax laws — has declined previous interview requests, including with The Salt Lake Tribune.
Breaking his public silence, Nielsen will speak with “60 Minutes” correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi on the newsmagazine show, which airs Sunday at 6 p.m. on CBS/Channel 2 and will also stream on Paramount+.
According to CBS, the report on the “$100 billion fortune built by the [church’s] secretive investment arm” — Salt Lake City-based Ensign Peak Advisors — will include Nielsen talking about his “allegation that instead of spending the money on good works, hundreds of millions were used to bail out businesses with church ties.”
Nielsen has alleged substantial sums from funds donated by church members for charitable purposes instead went to commercial ventures, including the development of the City Creek Center shopping mall in downtown Salt Lake City and the rescue of Beneficial Life Insurance Co.
Latter-day Saint leaders rejected the accusations, stating in a news release at the time that the church “complies with all applicable law governing our donations, investments, taxes and reserves.” They have also insisted that money for the commercial projects came from “earnings on invested reserve funds,” rather than the tithing donations themselves.
In the summer of 2021, Nielsen filed sworn testimony in former Utahn James Huntsman’s lawsuit, which accuses top Latter-day Saint leaders of fraud and seeks to recover millions in refunded tithing. (Huntsman’s case is on appeal before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.)
Earlier this year, Nielsen took his complaints to Congress, urging the Senate Finance Committee to investigate the faith’s financial practices and sharing what he said is “evidence of false statements, systematic accounting fraud” and violations of tax laws and other federal statutes. He has asserted, among other things, that his former employer has dodged more than $20 billion in taxes as well as another $2 billion in fines.
Weeks after he took the allegations to the Senate, the church and Ensign Peak Advisors settled with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, agreeing to pay $5 million in penalties for failing to properly disclose past stock holdings and going to “great lengths,” regulators said, to deliberately “obscure” the church’s vast investment portfolio.
In settling the SEC case, church leaders affirmed in a news release their “commitment to comply with the law,” adding that they “regret mistakes made.”
During the “60 Minutes” segment, CBS says Nielsen will discuss “his role in a federal investigation and decision to come forward.”
For their part, church higher-ups have insisted Ensign Peak’s “rainy day” reserves are intended to help pay for operations in poorer parts of the world and to see the global faith through economic downturns.
The latest available SEC filing valued Ensign Peak’s public fund at $44.4 billion at the end of 2022. Those reports include only investments that must be disclosed to regulators and thus do not reflect the portfolio’s total holdings.
Editor’s note • James Huntsman is a brother of Paul Huntsman, chairman of the nonprofit Salt Lake Tribune’s board of directors.