New York is closing Olivet University amid a federal money laundering investigation

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New York suspended operations at Olivet University in the state and said the evangelical Christian college is still largely run by a group of David Jang students linked to a 2018 criminal conspiracy.

Jang, a Korean-American cleric, founded Olivet in 2000. His followers are now in the crosshairs of Department of Homeland Security investigators investigating whether the university was part of a money-laundering program for criminals in China and the United States.

A sign near the gated entrance to Olivet University in Dover, New York.
JOSH KEEFE/NEWSWEEK

The New York Assistant Commissioner for Education’s scathing rebuke cited “a pattern of mismanagement” at the university and its links to “criminal activity” in order to terminate Olivet’s authorization to conduct creditworthy courses or programs in New York.

(Olivet’s Tennessee and California campuses are also likely to be under scrutiny, and DHS may revoke Olivet’s approval to enroll international students.)

The Department of Education’s decision to close Olivet’s Manhattan and Dover, New York campuses after a two-year review was made weeks later on May 17 news week reported that DHS investigators raided the premises of Olivet’s headquarters in Anza, California, as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into visa fraud, human trafficking and money laundering.

Olivet University, a little-known Bible school, was thrust into the national media spotlight in 2018 when the Manhattan District Attorney announced charges in a fraud and money laundering investigation unrelated to the current federal investigation. Olivet pleaded guilty to money laundering, as did several of Jang’s followers and companies they ran.

Assistant Education Commissioner William P. Murphy wrote to Olivet Thursday, dismissing the college’s appeal of the May 17 decision, saying the college had done far too little to clean up its act. He prevented Olivet from reapplying for certification to operate in New York. The department shared the letter news week and declined further comment. The decision took effect immediately.

Olivet lacked the financial resources to fulfill its mission, Murphy said. A Department of Education review found that “Olivet has a well-established pattern of non-compliance with laws, rules and regulations,” he wrote. “The records show me a larger pattern of only complying with regulations when forced to do so.”

Olivet failed to purge its leadership of executives who were in office when the university committed the financial crimes uncovered by the Manhattan Attorney in 2018, Murphy said, pointing to Tracy Davis, the college’s president at the time of the guilty plea. She later moved into a new role as Academic Dean. Tracy Davis is the wife of Johnathan Davis, a co-owner of Newsweek. Newsweek’s other co-owner, CEO and president Dev Pragad said earlier this year he had left the Olivet sect and wanted to prevent Jang’s followers from interfering with the company and its editorial board. Johnathan Davis is the CEO of IBT Media, which pleaded guilty to the Manhattan Attorney’s Office of Fraud allegations. IBT Media owned Newsweek for several years and spun it off shortly before the 2018 indictments were announced.

Tracy Davis and Johnathan Davis
Tracy Davis, former president and academic dean of Olivet University, with her husband, Johnathan Davis, a Newsweek co-owner.
Hudson E. Tsuei

Five of Olivet’s six current board members held senior college positions during the 2018 crimes uncovered, and Barnabas Jung, then CFO, was still in the same role, Murphy wrote. He was critical of Olivet’s financial management, writing of “a pattern of mismanagement of the institution’s finances that indicates a lack of capacity or a lack of commitment on the part of Olivet to manage its finances in a manner that would interfere with the operations of a degree-granting institution in State is conducive to this area.” Among the evidence Murphy reviewed were 50 lawsuits against Olivet, most for failure to pay under contract terms, and 20 tax liens. Olivet has settled all but three of the lawsuits, Murphy said.

In a statement on its website, Olivet University did not mention Murphy’s reasons or its appeal against the Department of Education’s decision. “Olivet University has always envisioned multiple uses for our Dover site beyond the school itself,” the statement said. The sprawling Dover campus, a former psychiatric hospital in Dutchess County about 80 miles north of Manhattan, would be used “to minister more than ever to evangelicals from around the world,” Olivet said, and would soon house a mission center, a business center , sports and entertainment facilities, a hospital, a technology park and an “Evangelical Theme Museum”.

“Olivet University New York will be retiring from offering credit courses for the time being, with the intention of trying diligently to open a chartered institution at the right time and place in New York – an intention reflected in our incorporation motion, which is currently pending with the New York State Department of Education.”

news week has reached out to Olivet University for further comments and will update this story with each response.

Murphy made no mention of the incorporation application, telling Olivet that his decision was final. He copied his letter to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, the arm of the Department of Homeland Security that authorizes colleges to bring foreign students to the United States.

In addition to the California campus, Olivet operates the Jubilee School, a performing arts and music school in Nashville, Tennessee.

The history of the various Olivet entities dates back to 2000, according to their various websites. That year, Jang founded Olivet Theological College and Seminary, later incorporated as Olivet University. Olivet Assembly USA and Olivet Assembly Europe both say they were founded in 2000 as church associations by seminary alumni. The World Olivet Assembly, which also operates out of Dover, New York, says it began that same year. Her website now lists more than 120 countries where she says she has members.

While Jang’s followers say her ministry is truly global, federal investigators are focusing on Olivet’s ties to China, from where the college brings many students to the United States. A former student, a pastor named JianGang “Frank” Lan, has been charged in North Carolina with possession of counterfeit goods. A North Carolina judge Monday ordered Lan’s arrest after failing to appear in court and set his bail at $1 million. Lan is in China, his lawyer said. news week discovered Lan’s ties to the Olivet Assembly before Olivet University confirmed that he had graduated from college in 2012.

That’s what three senior law enforcement officials said news week on condition of anonymity that they suspected links between the Lan case and Chinese organized crime and drug cartels looking to China to buy the precursor chemicals needed to manufacture the powerful opioid fentanyl, which is behind a spate of deadly overdoses of drugs in the US

“Renewal of the PTO shaft [permission to operate] there is no claim in this state, as the appeal record suggests,” wrote Deputy Commissioner Murphy, summarizing his scathing criticism of Olivet. “PTO is a privilege.”

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