First Family Church sells Linn County land it had intended for youth camp

First Family Church sells Linn County land it had intended for youth camp
By JUDY L. THOMAS - The Kansas City Star - 3/16/2009 - original
First Family Church has sold 211 acres that members of the Overland Park megachurch once were told would become the site for a youth camp.

Property records show that the Linn County land was sold Feb. 2 to a real estate firm formed four days earlier. The sales price was $390,000, a spokesman for the church said. The church paid $400,000 for the land in 2005.

“There’s not going to be a camp there right now because of the economy,” said Ronn Torossian, the chief executive officer of 5W Public Relations, a New York City firm that speaks for the church. “There’s no fishy land deals. There’s no anything. There’s a bad economy.”

The finances of the Rev. Jerry Johnston and his church have been under investigation by the Kansas Attorney General nearly two years, since The Kansas City Star reported how hundreds of members had left First Family over concerns about financial accountability. Complaints also were filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

Johnston has denied any wrongdoing.

The buyer of the Linn County land is Wolfe Real Estate Co., a Kansas limited-liability company, according to property records. The Mission Hills address listed is that of Natalie Wolfe, who could not be reached for comment.

The sale was news to David Vanlerberg, who sold the land to the church. Records show he still holds the mortgage. No documents have been filed showing the mortgage has been paid.

Johnston told his congregation in October 2005 that thanks to donors, the land would become “a brand-new youth camp to minister to thousands of kids.”

Two months later, Jeremy Johnston, the minister’s son and a church official, signed a $400,000 mortgage in First Family’s name, something church members had not been told.

To reach Judy L. Thomas, call 816-234-4334 or send e-mail to