Authorities in Houston confirmed Friday that a series of checks and cash found by a plumber in the wall of megachurch pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church are connected to a 2014 heist when $600,000 went missing.
The Houston Police Department (HPD) posted a statement about the investigation, launched after a plumber who worked at the church called into a Houston radio morning show on 100.3 The Bull to tell them about his shocking discovery.
‘Evidence from the recovered checks suggests this November case is connected to a March 9, 2014 theft report of undisclosed amounts of money at the church,’ the HPD said.
The revelation comes seven years after about $600,000 in donations was stolen and haven’t been recovered.
Police said that they were called to the church for a report of property discovered in the building on November 10 at about 2:30pm.
They claimed church members told them during a renovation project, the money was found inside a wall.
‘Burglary and theft officers responded and began investigating,’ the statement read. ‘An undisclosed amount of money was inventoried, documented and left in the custody of Lakewood Church since it was property found on the premises.’
They confirmed that the money is connected to the 2014 heist and added the investigation is ongoing.
The plumber, who only gave his first name, Justin, detailed what he found in the wall to the radio show Thursday morning.
Justin was called in to America’s largest church, Lakewood Church, on November 10 to fix a broken toilet, he said during the radio interview.
‘There was a loose toilet in the wall, and we removed the tile,’ he explained during the call Thursday morning. ‘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!”
He said hundreds of envelopes were filled with cash and checks. Houston police confirmed to DailyMail.com Thursday that cash and checks were found in the wall, and that they talked to ‘everybody associated with the building’ they were able to contact.
In 2014, $600,000 worth of donations were stolen from the church. The amount was just a portion of donations made from one weekend of services and it has never been found.
Justin told the radio show that he informed the church’s supervisors and was made to wait at the church for almost seven hours after his discovery.
‘Recently, while repair work was being done at Lakewood Church, an undisclosed amount of cash and checks were found. Lakewood immediately notified the Houston Police Department and is assisting them with their investigation.
‘Lakewood has no further comment at this time,’ a spokesperson for the church told DailyMail.com.
In 2014, an employee had discovered the break-in on the Monday morning following Lent.
In addition to cash, the burglars took Lakewood Church’s checks and deposit slips that listed parishioners’ credit card information. About $600,000 was stolen.
Crime Stoppers offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest at the time, but no arrest were ever made.
Donation funds are fully insured, so Lakewood Church did not lose out on the money at the time – but it has never been found.
At the time, the Houston church has a weekly attendance of about 43,500 parishioners.
Lakewood now welcomes about 52,000 attendees across multiple services per week, and its services are streamed worldwide, as Osteen proselytizes about the word of God and spreads the prosperity gospel – which teaches that wealth is a sign of God’s favor.
Osteen, 58, the televangelist megachurch pastor, is estimated to be worth $50 million. He is often criticized for preaching that wealth is a sign of God’s favor. The controversial celebrity pastor recently returned $4.4 million in federal COVID relief loans his megachurch received from the government.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Osteen’s Lakewood Church repaid the money after the stadium-sized facility was widely-condemned for accepting the cash in 2020.
A spokesman claimed at that time that they needed the loan because the church – which can 16,800 worshippers at one time – was unable to take weekly collections during COVID closures ,which it says helps pay its 368 staff.
But that sparked an outcry, as details of Osteen’s extreme wealth were once again shared.
His most recent address is listed as a six-bedroom, eight-bathroom mansion in Houston’s River Oaks neighborhood worth an estimated $15 million.
It has also been revealed that Osteen owns a Ferrari, which cost more than $300,000.
During the pandemic, he appeared on the Today Show urging people not to ‘focus on what [they] have or don’t have,’ the Daily Beast reported at the time.
The apparent hypocrisy drove some people on social media to complain about the church’s federal loan – the third highest handed out in Houston in July and August 2020, according to the Houston Business Journal.