Catholic Church distances itself from "Mystic"
BATON ROUGE- Questions are being raised tonight about a Baton Rouge charitable foundation that says it uses contributions to help retired priests, the elderly and pregnant women.
At issue is how much money the organization collects from its donors, and how little it reports to the Internal Revenue Service.
The local foundation is St. Joseph Helpers. It's run by a married couple whose mystical claims have been a thorny issue with the Catholic Church itself for years.
The couple is John and Cathy Gabel; he is listed as the director of St. Joseph's Helpers. She has made claims that God has given her the power to predict everything from devastating hurricanes to the downfall of Jimmy Swaggert. Her followers buy into it and give the organization big money. Now the Gabels and the foundation they run are the target of a federal investigation
Cathy Gabel is known by many in the St. Agnes Catholic church community, admired by some as a spiritualist, admonished by others as a mystic cult leader who gets visions from God. She and her husband are the people behind St. Joseph's Helpers--- a tight-knit, close-to-the vest foundation.
"Did you ever hear of me, now be honest," Cathy Gabel asked.
"I have heard of you because we've been investigating you for some time," Chief Investigator Chris Nakamoto responded.
"No outside of that," Gabel said. "I've been popular since '97."
For years, St. Joseph Helpers operated out of a residential storefront across from St. Agnes Catholic Church in Baton Rouge. Last month, this property sold and the Gabels cleared out. Internal Revenue Service documents filed by the charity show the organization receives donations and helps those in need.
"We don't have a website, won't don't ask for money, we give out books which people buy," John Gabel said.
Each year Non-profits like St. Josephs Helpers are required to fill out IRS forms listing how much in tax free income received from contributors and who that money helps. This organization routinely reports that it supports retired priests and shelters for pregnant women. The IRS forms filed by the charity offer little if any details, usually saying the money goes to various individuals. Our investigation shows that St. Joseph Helpers takes in substantial contributions. It reports a fraction of that income to the government.
"Do you have a history of under-reporting your contributions," Nakamoto asked John Gabel.
"Of course not," he responded.
But IRS tax records obtained by the News 2 investigative unit show a clear under-reporting pattern by St. Josephs Helpers. In 2004, the charity listed $5,500 in contributions. However, we have a $50,000 in cashier's checks paid to the non-profit. In 2005, $17,000 in reported income. However, we have another $50,000 check paid to St. Joseph's Helpers. In 2009, $15,000 reported to the IRS. Donor checks that year totaled $225,000.
While donor names are protected by law Mary Rita Wish alone has written nearly a hal million dollars incashiers checks St. Joseph's Helpers , hundreds of thousands more to Cathy Gabel or her husband. That's just the bank check receipts she was able to find and show us.
"We had a very good income," Wish said. "I know for a fact that I gave her over two and a half million dollars. What my family went through I don't want to see any family go through again. It's pure hell."
Mary Rita Wish was a successful businesswoman who says she and others got caught in a cult like web-- run by the Gabels. Family members claim Cathy Gabel isolated Wish from her family and sucked her bank accounts dry with the intention of helping others in the name of God.
"I knew this lady was a scam artists and she was exploiting my mom," Mary Rita Wish's daughter, Kathy Pekovic said.
Cathy Gabel has a much different view.
"Did you trick anybody," Nakamoto asked Gabel.
"I told the truth," Gabel said. "Hey, you can't con anybody that doesn't want to be conned."
While its unclear where the Gabels now operate their foundation, they own a house here in the Garden District. This Park boulevard address is registered with the secretary of state's office. John Gabel is listed as the treasurer of St. Joseph Helpers. The most recent contributions we have are from January of this year.
The Catholic Church has tried to distance itself from the Gabels. On at least two occasions the Diocese of Baton Rouge has issued written statements cautioning it's faithful about Cathy Gabels spiritual claims. Bishop Robert Meunch says he, "does not acknowledge the claim that reported visions and experiences originated from God, nor are we aware of any Catholic Bishop who does."
The Internal Revenue Service does not comment on its investigations, however it did send a letter to the Wish family last year saying "The Internal Revenue Service has an ongoing examination program to ensure that exempt organizations comply with the Internal Revenue Code. The inormation you submitted will be considered in this program."
The FBI told us by phone that they are investigating. An agent would only tell us that they can't comment. At this stage in her life Mary Rita Wish is her own mission: to make sure that others don't trapped in similar scenarios.