NEW YORK — Before the Sept. 11 attacks, the Rev. Carl Keyes was a little-known pastor of a small New York City congregation searching for members and money.
When the twin towers fell, his fortunes changed.
Donors poured $2.5 million into the minister’s charity to help 9/11 victims. Later, he would collect at least another $2.3 million more for relief efforts along the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast, in the poorest corners of West Virginia and Tennessee, and even in remote African villages. Tens of millions more flowed through his fingers from the sale of church properties.
But Keyes, a one-time construction worker, did more than help the needy with the millions donated — he helped himself.
According to financial records, internal correspondence and interviews with former employees conducted by The Associated Press, Keyes blurred the lines between his two charities, his ministry and his personal finances while promoting himself as an international humanitarian:
Keyes diverted large sums donated for 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina into his cash-starved church, and then used charity and church money to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal credit card bills and other debts, documents show.
He failed for years to file required federal and state reports showing how much money his charities received and spent.
The minister used a big donation meant for one of his charities to clear a mortgage on his family’s house, according to an accountant who told Keyes he was quitting, in part because of the transaction.
And, when his congregation sold its 19th-century church in midtown Manhattan for $31 million, he and his friends benefited. For example, $950,000 of the proceeds was used to buy his family a country home near the Delaware River in New Jersey. Another $1 million went to support one of his charities, which spent more on failed, lavish fundraisers than on promised programs in Africa.