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U.S. trustee decries mega-church expenses

SANTA ANA, Calif., Nov. 18 (UPI) -- A U.S. trustee in California questioned the salaries and housing expenses of employees of a Protestant ministry going through federal bankruptcy proceedings.

The Justice Department Trustee, working in an administrative role with the bankruptcy court in Santa Ana, found particularly unnecessary a $132,019 housing allowance for Fred Southard, the chief financial officer of Crystal Cathedral Ministries in Garden Grove, the Orange County Register reported Thursday.

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The trustee also questioned a $70,000 annual salary for Gretchen Schuller Penner, the youngest daughter of Crystal Cathedral's founding family headed by Robert H. Schuller. Penner produces "Hour of Power" broadcasts.

An objection was filed to the $55,000 annual salary for Neyva Penner Klaassen, Gretchen Penner's daughter, who assists with musical guest scheduling for the "Hour of Power" programs.

The church holds a $36 million mortgage, a total debt of nearly $60 million and owes approximately $7.5 million to unsecured creditors, the Register reported.

The mega-church filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month after financial woes caused officials to cut about 150 members of its staff, suspend its "Glory of Christmas" and "Glory of Easter" pageants, and sell a number of assets including its San Juan Capistrano retreat center.

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The Schuller family members draw a little over $1 million in salaries each year, records showed.

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