A United States District Court in Maryland has ordered the founder of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, Dr Daniel Olukoya, to pay $7,320 within 30 days as part of sanctions in the suit he entered against human rights activist, Omoyele Sowore, alleging defamatory publications.
The court, in a ruling by US Magistrate Judge, Timothy Sullivan, titled, “DKT 75 Order re – Motion for Sanctions 18-cv-02922,” added that Olukoya was also “prohibited from (1) making any use of any documents related to the U.K. Charity Commission that he produced to the Defendants after January 2, 2021; and from (2) challenging the admissibility of these documents on any basis.”
SaharaReporters had published stories involving Olukoya in September 2017 when some church members in Maryland accused him of importing religious books without paying customs duties.
It had been revealed that the church dragged some of its former pastors and members to court over monetary and property disputes.
The sued pastor and former church members had, in turn, accused the General Overseer of engaging in fraudulent activities in the US, including evasion of duties owed to US authorities.
In an action filed in the Circuit Court for Prince Georges’ County of Maryland, U.S.A., (Case No. CAL16-26532) on behalf of Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries International, Lagos, and Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, USA, Nevada, the church had sought declaratory judgment and damages against Pastors Lawrence Adetunji, Ronke Adetunji, and 11 former members of Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, Bowie, Maryland.
Also joined in the suit had been the Christ the Truth Ministry, the successor of MFM Bowie.
At issue are real property described as 5506 and 5503 Church Road in Bowie, Maryland, which were acquired by MFM Bowie in 2001 and 2004, respectively. Also in contention are funds for the MFM building in Bowie.
In October 2018, Olukoya and the church had instituted a court action at the US District Court for the District of Maryland against Sowore and Sahara Reporters Media Inc. in a suitcase number, 8:18-cv-02922, which Judge Theodore D. Chuang then heard.
Highlighting the Sahara Reporters publication of September 27, 2017, entitled “Former Mountain Of Fire Miracles Ministries Pastors Accuse General Overseer, Olukoya, Of Illegal Importation Of Goods In US Property Dispute,” Olukoya and the church lawyers had stated in its 49-paragraph complaint their three causes of action which were; “defamation, defamation per se and false light.”
They, therefore, claimed an award against all defendants to compensate for all economic damages sustained as a result of their tortious conduct; an award against all defendants to compensate for all presumed actual reputational damage; an award against all defendants to compensate for all presumed actual damages resulting from mental anguish and emotional distress; an award against all defendants of punitive damages; attorney’s fees and costs.
SaharaReporters had, nonetheless, in August 2020 also reported that Olukoya was considering taking another legal action against the online news publication to stop it from reporting about the United Kingdom Charity Commission scandal involving his church.
Olukoya, in a letter written by his lawyer, Ime Nya Asanga, had alleged that SaharaReporters levelled false allegations against him and the MFM board of trustees.
SaharaReporters had earlier reported how the UK Charity Commission appointed an interim manager for the MFM in August 2019.
The commission, in a statement, said the interim manager assumes these duties at the exclusion of the charity’s trustees, stating that the trustees retain control over matters relating to religious activities.
The UK charity regulator claimed it had serious concerns over MFM Chair of Trustees, Dr Daniel Olukoya, and his handling of serious incidents.
It accused Olukoya of illegally meeting a former employee of the charity alleged to have stolen between £150,000 and £190,000 of the charity’s funds in Nigeria, then entered into an agreement with the individual without consulting with other trustees.
Olukoya had in the past filed three libel suits against the Publisher of SaharaReporters, Omoyele Sowore, in Nigeria and another one before the District Court of Maryland, United States.
While all the cases in Nigeria had been dismissed, the one in the US was decided only on June 24, 2021.
While ruling on the suit, the US District Court magistrate said Olukoya should pay $7,320 within 30 days as part of sanctions in the suit he entered against Sowore while alleging defamatory publications.
The magistrate said, “Plaintiff Daniel Olukoya brought this lawsuit against the Defendants to recover for purported defamatory statements that the Defendants made about him and his church in an article published on September 27, 2017.2 See ECF No. 73. During discovery, the Defendants sought information related to the U.K. Charity Commission’s investigation of Olukoya’s church. ECF No. 72 at 1-2. When Olukoya failed to provide the requested discovery, the Defendants filed a motion to compel (ECF No. 55). Among the discovery requests at issue was a request for “[a]ll documents relating to proceedings before the U.K. Charity Commission related to Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries International.” ECF No. 55-3 at 13.
“In response to the motion to compel, Olukoya stated that he had responded to the discovery requests and that the motion to compel was therefore moot. ECF No. 59. Thereafter, the court held a telephone conference to address a related dispute (whether Olukoya would be required to produce discovery responses directed to a party whose claims had been dismissed), but otherwise treated the Defendants’ motion to compel as moot.
“Unfortunately, Olukoya’s response to the motion to compel contained a serious misrepresentation; he had not produced any “documents relating to proceedings before the U.K. Charity Commission related to Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries International.” See ECF No. 68 at 5 (noting that Olukoya produced no documents responsive to this request). And at 1 Judge Chuang referred this case to me for all discovery and related scheduling matters. ECF No. 57. 2 Other claims that Olukoya brought against the Defendants have been dismissed. ECF No. 26. Olukoya’s deposition, which was held on April 23, 2021, Olukoya testified that there were “tons and tons of documents in [his] possession” that relate to the inquiry by the U.K. Charity Commission. ECF No. 72-8 at 34.”
The magistrate added that the defendants, therefore, sought sanctions against Olukoya for his failure to produce the requested documents relating to proceedings before the U.K. Charity Commission.
The magistrate said, “The conclusion is that; for the reasons set forth above, the Defendants’ Motion for Sanctions will be granted in part and denied in part. The court will enter the following sanctions against the Defendants: Olukoya is prohibited from (1) making any use of any documents related to the U.K. Charity Commission that he produced to the Defendants after January 2, 2021; and from (2) challenging the admissibility of these documents on any basis other than Fed. R. Evid. 401 and 403.
“Olukoya will also be required to pay the Defendants’ reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in connection with his discovery failures, which total $7,320.00, within 30 days of the date of this Order. Payment should be made directly to the Defendants’ attorneys. These sanctions are entered against Olukoya pursuant to Rules 37(c) and 26(g).”
Meanwhile, in the response of Olukoya’s legal team to the court, it already admitted that the said online publications did not lead to any harm for the church.
The court papers obtained by SaharaReporters said, “Defendant Omoyele Sowore’s Request for Admissions. Responses 1. Admit that Plaintiff Daniel Olukoya did not suffer any economic harm due to the publication of the Challenged Statements. RESPONSE: Plaintiff denies this request. 2. Admit that no contract between Plaintiff Daniel Olukoya and any individual, corporation, or entity was terminated due to the publication of the Challenged Statements. RESPONSE: Plaintiff admits this request. 3. Admit that no member of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles church resigned from the Mountain of Fire and Miracles church due to the publication of the Challenged Statements.
“RESPONSE: Plaintiff denies this request. 4. Admit that Plaintiff Daniel Olukoya cannot identify a single individual who decided not to become a member of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles church due to the publication of the Challenged Statements. RESPONSE: Plaintiff denies this request. 5. Admit that Mountain of Fire and Miracles employs a public relations professional or media aide who is responsible for public relations for Mountain of Fire and Miracles. RESPONSE: Plaintiff admits this request.
“6. Admit that Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries employs a public relations professional or media aide who is responsible for public relations for Plaintiff Daniel Olukoya. RESPONSE: Plaintiff admits this request. 7. Admit that Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries maintains a website that provides information about its ministry to the public.
“RESPONSE: Plaintiff admits this request. 8. Admit that Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries maintains a YouTube page that airs Plaintiff Daniel Olukoya’s sermons. RESPONSE: Plaintiff admits this request. 9. Admit that Plaintiff Daniel Olukoya’s Facebook page identifies him as a public figure. RESPONSE: Plaintiff admits this request. 10. Admit that Plaintiff Daniel Olukoya is a public figure for purposes of this defamation action. RESPONSE: Plaintiff admits this request.”
The lawyers representing Sowore in the suit stated that they would donate the $7,320 sanction fees to be paid by Olukoya to Sowore’s ongoing court cases in Nigeria where the government dragged him to court over trumped-up charges.
“Based on Olukoya’s gamesmanship in failing to provide relevant discovery materials (particularly has failed to timely produce any documents relating to the UK Charity Commission investigation), we filed a motion asking magistrate judge Sullivan to impose discovery sanctions on Olukoya. We’re delighted to report that at the end of last week, magistrate Sullivan issued the attached decision finding that Olukoya misled the court and awarding $7,320 in attorneys’ fees against Olukoya personally.
“Olukoya is required to pay us the $7,320 in attorneys’ fees within 30 days. And Lisa and I would like to donate the $7,320 to SaharaReporters to help defray Sowore’s legal defence in Nigeria.
“That’s where things currently stand. In the next few weeks, we’ll be conducting additional limited depositions of Olukoya and Grace Ugeh, which the magistrate has permitted so that we can question each of them about documents they improperly failed to produce until after they were deposed,” one of the lawyers stated.