TAMPA - From work crews to offshore banks and Visa cards on Pacific Islands, Greater Ministries International is not your typical church.
Founder Gerald Payne has been doing missionary work for 25 years, he says in Ministries newsletters. He aims to feed and shelter the hungry and homeless, straighten out addicts and help the faithful attain ``abundance in their personal finances'' through a program investigators think is a Ponzi scheme.
Perhaps the most visible example of this missionary work is at the Florida State Fair this week, or next month at Legends Field during the New York Yankees' spring training.
Share Time Ministries, a branch of Greater Ministries, has won contracts to provide cleaning crews. The Fair Authority contract pays $7 per worker, per hour.
Share Time officials have denied they are a labor pool and say the work is part of the mission of helping people put their lives in order.
Fair Executive Director Rick Vymlatil said Share Time has about 50 men working the state fair each day this week. He was unaware of any investigations into Greater Ministries and said the group has performed well this year and last year.
``We're just hopeful that the money we're paying is getting to the guys that are working. And we think it is,'' Vymlatil said. ``We've had the same crew, by and large, since they started. So I assume they're getting paid.''
Payne declined to respond to The Tampa Tribune. Yankees officials could not be reached for comment Thursday and Friday.
Share Time's slogan is ``Recycling men and women in Christ.'' The program targets ex-convicts, addicts and homeless people and provides meals and shelter along with the work.
Greater Ministries' other interests include a herbal research center that claims to seek experimental cancer treatments and help fight flu viruses. The church has looked at building rest homes in North Carolina and buying banks in the Cayman Islands and on a Pacific Island called Nauru. Ministries newsletters also report a Visa debit card being established through a Nauru bank.
A May 1996 newsletter asks ``Faith Promises'' participants to make prompt donations: ``The cutoff date for the monthly gifts has been moved to the 5th of each month. All checks must arrive by the 20th of the month to be properly accounted for due to the volume of office business. ... God is Able!!''
Donors are urged to send their contributions by United Parcel Service or the Ministries' private courier, according to the newsletters.
NAI: Staff writer Deborah VanPelt contributed to this report.
MIT: Share Time Ministries volunteers Robert Whitaker, left, and Willie Sykes tidy up the midway at the Florida State Fair.