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$1 million Moonie Mystery


It was a dark night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets.

The phone rang on my desk, wak­ing me from a rever­ie I don’t remem­ber.

“Casey,” I said, hop­ing to sound like a pri­vate eye.

The guy on the oth­er end real­ly was a pri­vate eye. Not Gar­ri­son Keil­lor’s “Guy Noir,” but a Vir­ginia elec­tron­ic gumshoe named Lar­ry Zil­liox.

Maybe you have a hob­by. Zil­liox’s is keep­ing tabs on the sprawl­ing empire of the world’s wealth­i­est self-described Mes­si­ah, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

In the course of his prob­ing, Zil­liox came across an odd entry in the most recent tax fil­ing of the Wash­ing­ton Times Foun­da­tion, which is asso­ci­at­ed with the con­ser­v­a­tive news­pa­per found­ed in 1982 by Moon.

The doc­u­ment was dat­ed mid-2004 and includ­ed a list of orga­ni­za­tions to which grants had been made.

A mil­lion bucks to Hous­ton?

Three received grants total­ing $9,000.

The New York head­quar­ters of Moon’s Uni­fi­ca­tion Church received $11,200.

Anoth­er of Moon’s orga­ni­za­tions, the Amer­i­can Fam­i­ly Coali­tion Inc., received a grant of $254,500.

Then came the grab­ber: a whop­ping $1 mil­lion to the Greater Hous­ton Com­mu­ni­ty Foun­da­tion.

Why would Moon’s Wash­ing­ton Times Foun­da­tion give a mil­lion bucks to Hous­ton?

Zil­liox said he fig­ured I’d have a bet­ter chance of find­ing out than he would.

Maybe he was right.

I decid­ed to take the direct approach.

I called the Wash­ing­ton Times Foun­da­tion, but the num­ber list­ed on its tax form was no longer work­ing.

The Bush con­nec­tion

I called the Wash­ing­ton Times and asked for the foun­da­tion. I reached the voice mail of a sep­a­rate foun­da­tion, but my call was not returned.

I locat­ed two of the offi­cers of the foun­da­tion at the Wash­ing­ton Times and anoth­er at UPI (also owned by the Moon orga­ni­za­tion), but my phone calls and e‑mails went unan­swered.

So I called Steve Mais­lin, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Greater Hous­ton Com­mu­ni­ty Foun­da­tion.

He was­n’t in, but I left a mes­sage ask­ing why the Wash­ing­ton Times Foun­da­tion would give $1 mil­lion to his foun­da­tion. He called and left a mes­sage in return.

He could­n’t legal­ly tell me, he said.

Lat­er I reached Mais­lin and asked him if he could point me to the law that bound his lips. He said he mis­spoke.

“I meant that under the law it’s not a pub­lic record,” he said. “We’re not required to dis­close dona­tions in or grants out in our tax returns. We don’t as a mat­ter of pol­i­cy.”

Actu­al­ly, they do report the grants they give, as we will see below.

He said some peo­ple who give mon­ey want it kept pri­vate so they won’t be bad­gered by fundrais­ers.

Zil­liox had a the­o­ry. He fig­ured Moon gave the mon­ey to the Hous­ton foun­da­tion as a pass-through to the pres­i­den­tial library of the elder Pres­i­dent Bush.

It would­n’t be the first con­nec­tion between Moon and Bush. In 1995 Bush was hand­some­ly paid to make six speech­es to Moon-relat­ed groups in Japan.

The next year he would go to Buenos Aires, Argenti­na, to cel­e­brate the open­ing of a new Moonie news­pa­per there.

Zil­liox’s notion turned out not to be an idle the­o­ry. The long list of grant recip­i­ents list­ed in the com­mu­ni­ty foun­da­tion’s tax return that year includ­ed the George Bush Pres­i­den­tial Library Foun­da­tion at Texas A&M.

The amount: $2,132,471.

So I called Rod Thorn­ton at the Bush library foun­da­tion.

He hes­i­tat­ed for a moment, then explained that the dona­tion from the Greater Hous­ton Com­mu­ni­ty Foun­da­tion came from pro­ceeds from Bush’s 80th birth­day cel­e­bra­tion in 2004, which includ­ed a huge par­ty at Minute Maid Park and a fundrais­ing extrav­a­gan­za to ben­e­fit three of the for­mer pres­i­den­t’s favorite caus­es: his library, the Points of Light Foun­da­tion he found­ed, and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas M.D. Ander­son Can­cer Cen­ter.

M.D. Ander­son received $4.4 mil­lion from the Greater Hous­ton Com­mu­ni­ty Foun­da­tion that year, and the Points of Light Foun­da­tion received $1.8 mil­lion.

One call remained, to Jim McGrath, a for­mer speech­writer for the for­mer pres­i­dent who still serves as a fam­i­ly spokesman.

He explained that the mon­ey raised through Bush’s birth­day bash was fun­neled through the Greater Hous­ton Com­mu­ni­ty Foun­da­tion because of its tax-exempt sta­tus.

And did $1 mil­lion come from the Wash­ing­ton Times Foun­da­tion?

“We’re in an uncom­fort­able posi­tion,” he said. “If a donor does­n’t want to be iden­ti­fied we need to hon­or their pri­va­cy.”

I asked him about anoth­er part of Zil­liox’s the­o­ry: that the dona­tion was made to help per­suade Bush’s son, the cur­rent pres­i­dent, to grant Moon a par­don for a 1982 felony tax eva­sion con­vic­tion that had put him in prison for 13 months.

Moon had applied for a par­don from the elder pres­i­dent Bush, but with­drew the request.

“If that’s why he gave the grant, he’s throw­ing his mon­ey away,” said McGrath. “That’s not the way the Bush­es oper­ate.”

He added, “Pres­i­dent Bush has been very grate­ful for the friend­ship shown to him by the Wash­ing­ton Times Foun­da­tion, and the Wash­ing­ton Times serves a vital role in Wash­ing­ton. But there can’t be any con­nec­tion to any kind of a par­don.”