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Bills, bills, bills

Roberts goes defense on suit over lavish spending

Issue: "A mighty fortress is our sect," Oct. 20, 2007

The buzz in Tulsa, Okla., is over allegations in a lawsuit three former professors filed this month against 5,300-student Oral Roberts University and four administrators, including president Richard Roberts. Roberts, 59, heads up both ORU and the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association (OREA). (His father, retired ORU founder Oral Roberts, 89, lives in California.)

The professors claim they lost their jobs because they gave the ORU board of regents a report listing alleged lavish spending of donor funds for the personal benefit of Richard Roberts and his wife Lindsay, their children, and friends. The internal report was prepared by Stephanie Cantese, Richard Roberts' sister-in-law, according to the lawsuit, and was discovered by an ORU student repairing Cantese's laptop.

Among dozens of entries in the document's list: The university jet was used to take a daughter and several friends on a senior trip to Orlando and the Bahamas, with the $29,411 expense tab billed to the ministry as an "evangelistic function of the president"; donors paid for remodeling of the Roberts home 11 times in 14 years; Mrs. Roberts, who also is an ORU regent, frequently had cell phone bills exceeding $800 per month, with hundreds of text messages sent between 1 and 3 a.m. to young males; she charged $50,000 worth of clothing in a single year as a ministry television expense.

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The professors also alleged Roberts ordered the school's government program to recruit students to work for a Republican candidate in Tulsa's 2006 mayoral campaign-which they said violated IRS rules for nonprofits.

Roberts issued a statement saying that the family's expenses related to ORU or OREA are charged to those organizations, but that personal expenses are charged to him, and he pays them off monthly. He told students at a chapel service he was "not intimidated by blackmail and extortion." And he and his wife appeared on Larry King Oct. 10 to defend themselves against the charges.

San Antonio megachurch pastor John Hagee, a member of the ORU board of regents executive committee, said in a statement the committee has hired an additional independent audit firm and is "conducting a full and thorough investigation of all accusations" in the lawsuit.

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman


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