Fabiola Santiago: Pastor was a charlatan, but few cared as long as he hosted Trump, pushed GOP agenda | News

Long before divorce documents spilled tantalizing secrets about the wealth of Miami megachurch pastor Guillermo Maldonado — and his wife’s accusations of emotional abuse — there were signs he was a charlatan.

“The presence of the living God,” the evangelical preacher called President Donald Trump, who, on the campaign trail, stood steps away from him looking like he was trying to stifle a good laugh, while beaming at the obsequious praise.

“We ask you, Father, that he can be the Cyrus to bring reformation, to bring change into this nation, and all the nations of the Earth will say, ‘America is the greatest nation of the Earth’.”

Not to leave himself out of the power equation between God and Trump, Maldonado declared himself the conduit of all this greatness: “I release the Holy Spirit upon his life. I declare, God, that you use him.”

The January 2020 “Evangelicals for Trump” rally was a crowning moment for Maldonado’s chicanery.

The Honduran evangelical pastor, who railed against sinners, had no problem hosting and embracing morally corrupt President Trump, who demonized immigrants like the ones sitting in Maldonado’s pews at King Jesus International Ministry.

Now, in light of his wife’s charges of abuse and misuse of church funds, we can understand why Maldonado would so heartily endorse a president who cheated on his pregnant wife with a hooker and boasted about sexually assaulting women.

The divorce affidavits from his estranged wife and former co-pastor, Ana Maldonado, reveal claims of deceit, and possibly illegal activity, all which her husband, in recorded statements posted on the church website — which promises that “miracles happen here” — and his attorneys deny.

Maldonado’s wealth

And this is interesting: Ana Maldonado doesn’t accuse the pastor of infidelity. However, in his rants posted on the church’s website, he denies ever cheating on her. Perhaps the infidelity defense is a smokescreen to avoid addressing the most damning issue: whether the pastor’s personal and family wealth has been acquired through donations to a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization.

Ana Maldonado alleges that her husband has amassed a half-dozen properties, at least three cars and a nine-seat jet, according to Miami-Dade County court records obtained by Miami Herald reporter Bianca Padro Ocasio.

Ana Maldonado claims she doesn’t know the extent of her husband’s net worth, but there may also be a “possible boat” and assets hidden in Italy, Honduras and Colombia. In the divorce petition, her attorneys put a price tag on them: $120 million.

The divorce sounds like the Latin American, made-in-Miami version of the Netflix series “Greenleaf,” about a family-run megachurch in Memphis, Tennessee — except, in this case, there’s no redemption in sight.

Ana Maldonado, who calls herself “a prophet,” has founded her own church, ambitiously named Tabernaculo de su Presencia a las Naciones, and delivers sermons in hotel conference rooms where many followers can be seen on livestreams not wearing masks.

At least in their delusions about the deadly pandemic and their irresponsible behavior, the couple seem to be made for each other.

Pastor downplays COVID-19

At the onset of the pandemic, Guillermo Maldonado downplayed the coronavirus in his sermons to some 20,000 followers who attend his services weekly. Anything to keep throngs throwing their money behind his alleged connection to “King Jesus,” who would shelter them from disease.

And, of course, all of the participants on stage during the Trump rally were unmasked, as were the crowds of evangelicals packed into the building — South Florida being at the epicenter of the pandemic be damned.

He was eventually shut down by lock-down orders, but Maldonado already had put his congregation — largely made up of Hispanics, one of the groups most vulnerable and affected by COVID-19 deaths and infection — at great risk.

Who knows how much human suffering in Southwest Miami-Dade can be traced to the unmasked gatherings and rallies inside his church?

Church as GOP platform

The pandemic response alone should’ve raised eyebrows, but no one cared because Republican Maldonado used his preacher’s platform to push GOP politics — and there was an election to win in Florida, where the Latino vote is crucial.

Instead of facing scorn, Maldonado’s church became the house where GOP politicians — most notably Trump, who also hosted him at the White House — came to court the Hispanic evangelical vote in 2020.

The frenzied faithful believed it when Trump and former county mayor, and now Congressman Carlos Gimenez, pledged to them that they shared their values.

“There’s a very important election in our country,” Gimenez told them, and “I have the same principles you do.”

Cretinous deceit, on both sides, the pastor and the politicians.

Perhaps, God did hear Maldonado’s prayers — and he helped the better man become president.

(Fabiola Santiago is a columnist for The Miami Herald.)

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