Veronica Roberts

“Inside Edition” did a stunning piece two years ago on preachers living like rock stars with private jets, mansions and all the trappings loads of tax-free, easy money can buy, and I’m afraid nothing has changed since.

Sorry, my mistake, I shouldn’t have said nothing has changed. I think the obscene opulence has gotten worse.

While many of their congregants struggle to make ends meet in this difficult economy, these megachurch leaders continue to pass around the collection plate and solicit additional donations through tele-evangelical stunts and books.

Some preachers have even slithered into the reality TV business, demonstrating that money and fame is the only name of the game.

While these crooks in the pulpits get away with fraud and unbelievable greed, where is the federal government?

I understand these grifters masquerading as servants of God, for if sociopaths are allowed free rein, they will hunt their prey. What I do not understand is our legislators being asleep behind the wheel while these embezzlers steal in plain sight.

And while six of these charlatan preachers have been investigated by the Senate, they are all still in operation. The God business is an extremely lucrative business, with televangelism alone worth an estimated $2-3 billion annually.

And remember: All of it is untaxed and unregulated, where the heads of these churches have total control.

In the above video, one of the most notorious crooks in the pulpit, Reverend Kenneth Copeland, is cornered by a reporter who asked him what congress should be asking, “Why’re you living such a lifestyle of luxury of off church donations?”

Copeland’s henchmen tried to shut down the reporter and prevent them from filming. When the reporter pushed, telling him it was a simple question, he stopped and said, “I will give you a simple answer. My lifestyle follows the scriptures. We give, we believe, we’re open.”

When she continued to press him about his fleet of private jets, asking him how many he owned and why a minister needed so many, I think Copeland told her it was none of her business. (You be the judge, watch the video above).

The Fort Worth, Texas, minister was even seen doing a fly over with one of his jets as his adoring flock cheered down below. He owns mansions, boats and one of his jets cost more than $20 million, which he flies out of his private airport. Yes, the good pastor has his own private landing strip near one of his mansions, called the Kenneth Copeland Airport.

Apparently, the Senate investigation did not clip the opulent wings of Copeland. The other five who were in the probe are also still in operation as well.

Like Pastor Paula White, who lives in multimillion-dollar mansions and Celebrity Net Worth has put the now divorced Mississippi born lady of God’s net worth at $5 million.

Then there is the Rev. Creflo Dollar who continues to live up to his name despite his run-in with the law. The Atlanta megachurch pastor was arrested for battery in June 2012 for assaulting his 15-year-old daughter.

Not only did he receive a standing ovation from his flock the Sunday after he was arrested, his net worth has not suffered an iota. Pastor dollar is reportedly worth $27 million. And he is not shy about spending it on mansions, posh cars and private planes.

Another Atlanta megachurch leader, the Rev. Eddie Long, had his scandal of child sexual abuse and continued to lead his church even after he paid off the young men who sued him.

But Pastor Peter Popoff’s con tops the preaching pile for his house of cards came crashing down around him when his fake healings were exposed in 1986.

Popoff had a sweet scam going, where he pretended to heal sick folks in his People United For Christ church in California, pretended to know intimate details of their lives through God when all the while the only “god” who was speaking to him was his wife Elizabeth, through a secret microphone hidden in his ear.

You would think this con man would be thrown out of the church and face some sort of fraudulent charges but believe it or not, he is still peddling his wares on the pulpit and on television worldwide.

Popoff continues to prey on vulnerable folks, selling his holy oil as having healing powers and promising to get rid of his believers’ debt through pray and a little donation at first, then a sizable one later.

Incidentally, the majority of his gullible followers are from the black community and incredulously BET network has sold TV spots to this fraud to peddle his scam to folks desperate for help with their debt.

The psychology behind this reminds me of the Jonestown suicide tragedy, where church followers are so hypnotized by their preachers, that they could be led to the slaughter like sheep and in this case, donate and follow greedy grifters like marks.

Why would congregants continue to support this kind of opulence while they are not allowed to partake in it? Daughter Christie Parker told “Inside Edition” that her sick mother, who was dying of cancer, sent all of her money to Reverend Copeland, hoping that she would be cured. (See video above).

Like Peter Maas once said, “The success of any good con hinges on taking the victim where he wants to go,” and these preachers use religion and the promise of riches in heaven and healing powers to dupe their vulnerable congregation and television audience.

A large part of the population are now advocating taxing the churches but as Robert Young, of Maryland Department of Assessment and Taxation told ABC News during a 2012 interview, no one thought to tighten the existing loopholes in the tax code.

Young said these rich preachers are taking advantage of law, which stipulates if their homes — called parsonages — are furnished by the church to be used by a minister, it becomes tax exempt.

“No one ever thought it was probably necessary to have a dollar limit on the amount of parsonage,“ Young said, adding, “but the value of those properties should raise questions in anyone’s mind.”

They should indeed, starting with his department and the rest of the federal government. I think the time has come to revisit churches tax exemption status for they seem to be taking gross advantage of this “divine loopholes.”

Here is the estimated net worth of a few other megachurch preachers:

Pastor Joel Osteen — $40 million

Pastor Joyce Meyers — $8 million

The Rev. T.J. Jakes — $18 million

Bishop Eddie Long—$5 million

Pastor John Hagee — $5 million

Check out others’ net worth here.