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Adventist Risk Management Fires Its Top Leadership in Brazil

ARM - Brazil

Adventist Risk Management recently terminated six of its Brazil-based employees and opened an ongoing investigation into administrative irregularities. These three leaders and three staff oversaw financial operations and processed claims for the risk management and insurance company of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Headquartered at the South American Division offices in Brasilia, the organization is responsible for insuring about 50,000 Adventist workers and associated entities in South America as well as parts of Asia.

The individuals fired include the entire top leadership team of Adventist Risk Management South America (ARM-SA)—general director Christian Rafael Spindler Prates, financial and administrative director Agnaldo Machado Pacheco, and financial director Elizandro Rosergio Hoffmann. The staff terminated thus far include product manager Marcos Lima and two claims analysts, Débora Zainy and Inês Hoffmann, who is Elizandro’s sister.

ARM - SA "Nossa Equipe"

This early 2024 action and an ongoing comprehensive investigation initiated by Silver Spring, Maryland-based Adventist Risk Management (ARM, Inc.), stems from a late 2023 standard regular audit conducted by General Conference Auditing Services (GCAS). Its audit investigation report was the basis for the terminations.

The irregularities cited by ARM, Inc. in a February 29 alert allegedly include a preliminary estimate that at least R$30,000,000 (over $6 million) in funds were misappropriated. 

Through conversations with GCAS in early 2024, ARM, Inc. leadership became aware of the administrative irregularities. On January 13, James Winegardner, president/CEO, and Andrew Moll, CFO, flew to Brazil and took control of the ARM-SA office. In mid-January, ARM, Inc. retained a law firm in Brasilia to conduct an investigation that could conclude its work in a few weeks. In this process, Agnaldo Machado Pacheco returned R$500,000 (over $100,000) and also handed his smartphone to ARM, Inc. representatives. The smartphone provided information that also allegedly implicated Jabson Magalhães da Silva, former ARM-SA general director, in the inconsistencies.

After the news leaked in pastoral WhatsApp group chats in Brazil, the names of the ARM-SA board of directors were quickly removed from the official website. A brief public statement was posted a few days later on February 29 explaining that financial inconsistencies were found and that ARM, Inc. dismissed the Brazilian board, appointing people to manage the crisis and enhance internal control measures.

South (American Division) by Southern Brazil

Erton Carlos Köhler, executive secretary of the General Conference, created the ARM-SA office during his 15 years as president of the South American Division. Prior to this, insurance trust funds were handled with relative autonomy by each union. In some places this contributed to an administrative “slush fund mindset.” The effort to create ARM-SA faced strong opposition from union leaders, and its existence bolsters the Köhler legacy of centralizing presidential power while expanding Brazilian denominational influence during his administration. The insurance office in Brasilia also covers the Northern Asia-Pacific Division and the Southern Asia-Pacific Division. 

When ARM-SA was established around 2010, Köhler, who is from southern Brazil, appointed fellow southern Brazilian Jabson Magalhães da Silva as its general director. Magalhães later brought in the recently terminated southerner Brazilians Christian Rafael Spindler Prates, Agnaldo Machado Pacheco, and Elizandro Hoffmann. From ARM-SA, Magalhães moved to become treasurer of the Southeast Brazil Union Conference. 

Leaders from southern Brazil dominate South American Adventist leadership roles. In 2021, for instance, the SAD nominating committee elected southern Brazilians Stanley Arco as president for the South American Division; Charles Rampanelli as executive secretary for the Chile Union Mission; Jorge Wiebusch as president for the Uruguay Union of Churches Mission; Celso Santos as financial director for the Northwest Brazil Union Mission; Edson Erthal de Medeiros as general director and Uilson Garcia as financial director for the Brazilian Publishing House; Evandro Fávero as the director for the Latin-American Theology Seminary; Jolivê Chaves as director for the Bahia Adventist University seminary; Josias Souza as financial director for Novo Tempo (Brazil’s Hope Channel); Jairo dos Anjos as financial director for the Northeast Brazil Union Mission; Joel Distler as financial director for Superbom (SAD’s Brazilian food factory); Davi Contri as financial director for the Adventist Technology Institute; and Gilnei de Abreu as financial director for the West Central Brazil Union Mission. All the names above are from southern Brazil or built their careers at Adventist institutions in southern Brazil. The preference for southern financial directors also reflects SAD habits: Marlon Lopes, SAD treasurer, is a southern Brazilian and brother to Marlinton Lopes, South Brazil Union Conference president. Both have been in their positions since 2010.

A Culture of Connection

The dominant role of leaders from the Brazilian south, where Adventism first arrived from Germany, is noted by the official Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists article on the SAD: “For the last three administrations, it has continued under the presidency of descendants of German immigrants.” 

Throughout the 20th century, German Adventist families could traditionally grow more economically successful than their fellow Brazilian countrymen and thus could establish themselves as ecclesial elites while the church expanded toward the poorer portions of the population. As ecclesial elites in Brazil, Adventist leaders are not limited to official administrative structures. As such, many political and economic decisions are often driven by para-official connections between important leaders and their disciples who defend the leader’s decisions based on what is seen as his personal connection with God and his subjective interest in the welfare of the church. This results in a two-tier denominational structure of insiders with Germanic cultural expressions and family connections that dominates Adventism in South America. This manifests in several ways, such as the prevalence of southern officials over the whole continent and the lack of autonomy by SAD unions that are not in the south.

The only SAD Unions with relative administrative autonomy are the Argentina, South Brazil, Central Brazil, and Southeast Brazil Union Conferences, all in the South and Southeast, against 12 Unions that are still considered Union Missions, despite the fact that some of them have more church members than most Union Conferences in the continent. All the major denominational institutions on the continent are also located in the Brazilian South and Southeast, such as the food factory, publishing house, media center, and the first seminary.

Mine the Gap

A person familiar with the situation stated that, for them, it’s essentially impossible to trust SAD right now, particularly the Brazilians responsible for denominational finances. This is due to a leadership culture that mines gray areas for opportunities by focusing more on “making things happen via any means and cost” and less so on “worrying about the mess later.”

For the last three months, ARM, Inc. leadership has been regularly traveling to Brazil and directly supervising the remaining 40 employees in the ARM-SA office. While audits were routinely performed on funds operated by ARM-SA and its associated insurance broker, Unibrás Corretora de Seguros Ltda., questions remain regarding related fund activity connected to the SAD. This division-run “trust fund experience of entities,” as one observer called it, has allegedly been audited separately. These entities function more like employee benefit funds than insurance. This space between ARM-SA and the SAD has produced a gap in oversight that has existed for a very long time.

Alexander Carpenter contributed to this report.
Title Image: Jared Wright for Spectrum

André Kanasiro

About the author

André Kanasiro is editor-in-chief and creator of Zelota magazine, where he writes on the Bible, politics and Adventism. He is a biologist and has a master’s degree in Jewish Studies from the University of São Paulo. More from André Kanasiro.
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