San Diego evangelist Morris Cerullo has sent thousands of letters retracting lifetime discounts at New Heritage USA as he tries to begin settling a lawsuit by his partners in the religious retreat.
The letters, sent Friday, tell about 14,500 cardholders they can get full refunds for the $300 “gold” and $1,000 “platinum” cards. Cerullo sold the cards to raise money for his minority share of the theme park once operated by former PTL leader Jim Bakker.
The cards are at the center of a federal suit by a group of Malaysian businessmen who own 51% of New Heritage USA.
Cerullo holds 49% and borrowed some money from the partners to pay for his share. Cerullo raised more than $4 million from the cards to help pay back the loan.
The business partners accuse Cerullo of fraud and conspiracy. They contend that he offered the discount cards without their knowledge and consent.
The letters say cardholders can ask for a full refund, transfer their membership to a new discount card program for Cerullo’s ministry activities other than New Heritage or can choose to allow the purchase to stand as a donation to Cerullo’s ministry.
“I think we’ve muted out the heart of this lawsuit,” Cerullo’s lawyer, Jim Bensfield, said during a court hearing.
But the partners said they have not decided whether to honor the cards, which would give holders discounts on events at the park.
New Heritage USA, in Fort Mill about 10 miles from the North Carolina border, is scheduled to open this summer.
A lawyer for the majority partners has said New Heritage does not want to alienate potential customers who already have bought Cerullo’s cards.
“We don’t know what impact on our position his letter would have,” said George Kucik, who represents the majority partners.
The partners have asked that Cerullo be required to pay for any financial losses from the cards. They are considering asking that Cerullo’s assets be frozen.
An April 15 hearing is scheduled in federal court to settle other issues, including how much Cerullo must have to cover any financial losses stemming from people’s use of the discount cards.