Cousins spar over multimillion-dollar Christian media empire

Two Indiana cousins are fighting for control of a multimillion-dollar Christian media empire started by their grandfather, trading accusations of deceit, corporate malfeasance, harassment and abuse.

Lester L. Sumrall and Andrew Sumrall both want control of what one lawsuit claims could be $1 billion in donations that have flowed into the Lester Sumrall Evangelistic Association since the death of their grandfather, Lester Sumrall, in 1996, The Indianapolis Star reported. Lester Sumrall founded LeSEA in 1957.

A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Andrew Sumrall last year accuses his cousin of pursuing a "false claim to be the 'rightful spiritual and legal heir' of LeSEA." It accuses Lester L. Sumrall of engaging in "a long pattern of abusive, harassing, and unlawful conduct against LeSEA and his own family members."

The May 2018 lawsuit claims Lester L. Sumrall even interfered in his cousin's divorce proceedings.

In response, Lester L. Sumrall accuses Andrew Sumrall, who runs the evangelist not-for-profit organization, of deceiving donors and being involved in corporate malfeasance while overseeing LeSEA.

LeSEA shares the gospel through ministries served by two radio and six television stations, including WHMB-TV Channel 40 in Indianapolis. Donations generated by LeSEA support local church-based outreach, a bookstore and World Harvest Bible College in South Bend, and fund a relief arm the organization says "has delivered more than $200 million in food and supplies to hungry, hurting people in 92 nations around the world."

The LeSEA founder's namesake said his grandfather designated him a successor, and that he has a document to prove it. But when his grandfather died, his uncles conspired to hide the will and seize control of LeSEA, Lester L. Sumrall alleged.

Andrew "Drew" Sumrall said Lester L. Sumrall's claims are baseless.

"l look forward to presenting the absurdity of Lester Leonard's claims in federal court," Andrew Sumrall said in a statement to The Star. "These actions are plainly frivolous attempts to create controversy by individuals who have absolutely no affiliation to LeSEA."

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