A plumber doing repairs at celebrity preacher Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston has reportedly found about 500 envelopes containing cash and checks in a wall behind a loose toilet.
The plumber, identified only as ‘Justin’, told Houston radio station KILT-FM on Thursday that he made the shocking discovery while working at the megachurch last month. “There was a loose toilet in the wall, and we removed the tile,” Justin said. “We went to go remove the toilet, and I moved some insulation away, and about 500 envelopes fell out of the wall, and I was like, ‘Oh wow.’”
The envelopes were stuffed with cash and checks – possibly donations to Lakewood. Back in 2014, the church filed a police report claiming the disappearance of $600,000 from its safe. A Lakewood spokesman confirmed that an “undisclosed amount” of cash and checks had been found at the church. Houston police were immediately notified.
Justin said he turned the envelopes in to a maintenance supervisor at Lakewood. It’s not clear whether the discovery was related to the reported 2014 theft.
Houston police offered a $25,000 reward when its investigation of the Lakewood case was announced. The plumber reportedly won’t be eligible to collect on the reward because it was offered for a tip leading to a suspect’s arrest. No arrest has been made since the money went missing, and the state’s statute of limitations on burglary and theft is five years.
Lakewood is so large that it moved into a former NBA arena – the ex-home of the Houston Rockets – in 2005. The building was converted into a 16,000-seat church. Lakewood’s multiple services draw more than 52,000 congregants weekly, making it the biggest church in the US. It reportedly reaches an additional 10 million people through its television ministry.
Osteen reportedly has a net worth of more than $50 million, compiled at least partly through his bestselling books and speaking tours. His church, which had a $90 million budget as of its 2017 fiscal year, raised controversy in 2020 by taking out a $4.4 million Covid-19 disaster loan under the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses. The church revealed in October that it will repay the loan.