Florida man's eviction uncovers international investment scandal by abusive Legion of Christ group
Handcuffs on priest (Shutterstock)

Carlos Lomena was one of many Americans who lost work due to the COVID-19 crisis, but then he stood to lose his apartment too. While he may have begged a Florida judge for help, citing the eviction moratorium, it turns out he filled out the wrong form, so he's getting evicted, the Miami Herald reported.

The story took a turn, however, when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released the Pandora Papers, which exposed a series of super-wealthy people and their international investments hidden through shell companies.

Lomena's landlord, it turns out, is a member of the Legion of Christ, "a wealthy Roman Catholic order disgraced by an international pedophilia scandal," characterized the Herald.

The Pandora Papers uncovered that since the Vatican said they'd ceased operations in 2010, the Legion of Christ operatives began buying up three trusts in New Zealand to hold money for the group.

"The confidential records show that the trusts became a secret partner in the ownership structure of Lomena's apartment complex, working with the landlord to invest $2 million in the complex in 2015," said the report. "The trusts invested millions more in other modest residential buildings in Florida, Texas, Iowa, Indiana and Illinois."

"Two of these trusts, formed shortly after, secretly moved millions of dollars around the world," said the report. "This included more than $14 million funneled into investments in apartment complexes that Pensam Capital, the firm that owned Lomena's building, was acquiring across the United States."

Pensam said to the ICIJ that they have no idea what anyone was talking about.

The two groups ultimately led to nearly $300 million in assets for the Legion of Christ, the Pandora Papers revealed, despite sexual abuse from priests leading to lawsuits and financial settlements from the group.

When the ICIJ asked if the Legion disclosed their growing cash funneling operation, they released a statement that "religious institutes do not have an obligation to send detailed information to the Vatican regarding their internal financial decisions or organization."

They said that they set up one of the three trusts but dodged the other two, which hold the majority of the cash. They claimed they didn't know about what the other two trusts were doing. It turns out they were funded by a wealthy Mexican family and top Legion leader Father Luis Garza Medina, who denied having any responsibility.

The Pandora Papers show otherwise, however, the ICIJ uncovered, with the same trustees running all throughout of the same New Zealand address. But Father Garza claimed that they were all for charitable purposes and caring for elderly priests.

Lomena's story revealed that he wasn't alone when it came to the inhumane treatment of those living in the Pensam buildings. Residents revealed flooding, mold, broken appliances and elevators that were deemed "dangerous." Tenants couldn't reach customer service people at the Iowa-based management company that ran the building. Lawsuits revealed BH Management dramatically increased penalties to late rent payments and went after fast evictions, regardless of moratoriums. BH Management claims they do business "under strict adherence of lease agreements and the law, including the CDC order on evictions."

"This is the problem of growing global wealth inequality crystallized in one industry," said Jim Baker, the executive director of the Private Equity Stakeholder Project, a group that follows the money from private equity firms and other large groups.

Read the full report at the Miami Herald and the ICIJ for full coverage of the Pandora Papers.