Mormon who left Wall St. to work for charity blows whistle on what he says is his church’s “clandestine hedge fund”

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Every religion has its mysteries. One of the closest guarded secrets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been its wealth. In this report, you will hear for the first time about its remarkable size from a former manager at the church’s investment firm. David Nielsen says that during his nine years managing money at the church firm, the value of its investments ballooned past $100 billion. That would make it the largest treasure held by any religious fund in America. But instead of spending that money to do good, David Nielsen alleges it was used in ways that bent the law … and broke his faith.

David Nielsen: I thought I was gonna work for a charity. I thought that’s what my skills were gonna do…was help build the charity and do good with things. And the funds were never used for that. It was really a clandestine hedge fund.

Sharyn Alfonsi: A clandestine hedge fund. How so?

David Nielsen: Those funds weren’t used the way they were appropriated to be used.

Sharyn Alfonsi: So how were they being used?

David Nielsen: Well, once the money went in, it didn’t go out.

David Nielsen was a senior portfolio manager for the investment arm of the church, called Ensign Peak Advisors.

In 2009, Nielsen, who says he was a devout Mormon, was recruited away from a lucrative job on Wall Street to work for the firm, a block from church headquarters in Salt Lake City.

David Nielsen: You know this. Wall Street, you spend your skills working to make really rich people a little bit more rich — but there is something different about the prospect of putting your skills to work for something that you think is really gonna build the kingdom. It’s really gonna make a difference.

But Nielsen says he grew troubled by what he saw at Ensign Peak. He says the firm used false records and statements to masquerade as a charity, stockpiling money and misleading church members.

Every year, the church collects an estimated $7 billion in contributions from its 17 million members.

The church expects members to contribute about 10% of their income…a practice known as tithing.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Explain how the tithe is supposed to be used.

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