Regulators say it's not insurance and told Oregon operation to quit offering it.
State insurance regulators have ordered the Oregon-based Embassy of Heaven Church and its leader, Paul Revere, to stop making misrepresentations related to insurance in Minnesota, saying a type of auto insurance it promotes through Mutual Assurance is bogus.
The state Department of Commerce, which regulates insurers, announced the cease-and-desist order Wednesday and urged Minnesotans who think they are covered by such auto insurance to contact the Commerce Department.
Department officials said they don't know how many people might be affected but are concerned people may think they are insured when they are not.
"Under the guise of providing 'church-based insurance,' Paul Revere and the Embassy of Heaven Church misled consumers into using phony auto insurance policies," Commissioner Mike Rothman said. "In this classic case of affinity fraud, Embassy of Heaven Church deliberately exploited and manipulated the trust of Minnesotans, specifically targeting members of a faith-based community."
According to the church's website, it is based in Stayton, Ore., and Paul Revere is the pastor.
In a phone interview, Revere said he didn't know anything about the order and hadn't been contacted. He said Minnesota was the first state to take issue. The organization doesn't issue or sell insurance for money, he said, but seeks out assurance from the Lord. Nothing is being sold, he said.
"Assurance is not insurance," Revere said. "Assurance comes from Heaven. If they want to regulate assurance, they have to regulate God."
The case began earlier this year in Renville County when a motorist was cited for not having car insurance. The woman who owned the car, who lives in Boyd, Minn., produced a "Certificate of Self-Insurance" issued by the Embassy of Heaven Church. The certificate showed the woman was a member of Mutual Assurance and indicated it was "a pool of self-insured ministries."
In June, the Renville County attorney's office contacted the Commerce Department about the church's licensing status. An investigation showed the organization operated as an insurer, or self-insurer, under the name Mutual Assurance but didn't have the necessary Minnesota license. The company's website engaged in false and misleading advertising and the insurance isn't valid, Commerce said.
The woman told investigators that she didn't pay any premium for the certificate but believed she had church-based insurance through a group membership with Mutual Assurance. She indicated that she printed the certificate from Mutual Assurance's website, according to a copy of the cease and desist order.
According to the Commerce Department, the U.S. Department of Justice describes the Embassy of Heaven Church as "a religious/antigovernment group in Oregon headed by Paul Revere, the alias of a former computer analyst named Craig Douglas Fleshman." Fleshman reportedly began the church in 1987 and preaches total separation from earthly government.
When asked if the description was accurate, Revere said he didn't know how to respond. He said his organization preaches a loving philosophy and isn't "anti" anything, but is pro-Kingdom of Heaven and that government.
"We don't operate in Minnesota," he said. "We operate in the Kingdom of Heaven."
Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683