Richard Roberts offered severance package

Thursday, August 14th 2008, 8:19 am
By: News 9

Associated Press

TULSA, Okla. -- The former president of Oral Roberts University, who stepped down last fall amid allegations he misspent school funds to live in luxury, is being offered a severance package from the university, but officials there refuse to divulge its terms.

Televangelist Richard Roberts, the son of school founder Oral Roberts, resigned in November.

He was accused along with his wife, Lindsay, of dropping money on shopping sprees, home improvements and a stable of horses for their daughters at a time when ORU was more than $50 million in debt. Both have repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

Billionaire Oklahoma City businessman Mart Green took the reins at ORU in January, donating $70 million and pledging to restore the public's trust in the small evangelical school.

Wednesday, Green called the proposed severance agreement "fair, reasonable, and in the best interest of ORU." The package has yet to be finalized, and Green refused to comment further on the details.

Frank Hagedorn, Roberts' attorney, confirmed the negotiations.

"He was promised a severance and he should get his severance," said Hagedorn, who would not say whether his client was assured severance upon his resignation last November.

As fall classes begin this week on the south Tulsa campus still reeling from a past school year of scandal, some critics say a deal for Roberts sends the wrong signal to those who believed it was a fresh start here.

"It's a slap in the face to the supporters of the university," said former ORU regent Harry McNevin, who quit the board in 1987 because of the misspending he alleged he witnessed. "It sends the message that it's more about money than winning souls."

Sam Dyk, an ORU business major, said the severance agreement was "uncalled for," considering the school's current financial struggles.

"We're just trying to get back on track and we're giving money away like we did before," he said. "It's like we're still bleeding."

Ole Anthony, whose Dallas-based nonprofit Trinity Foundation investigates and reports on fraud in religious ministries, wasn't surprised to hear of the proposed agreement because it's common practice in many ministries and businesses. He said the key will be the size of the settlement, which university officials will not disclose.

"A lot of times, severance packages include all kinds of goodies," Anthony said.

Hagedorn defended his client.

"You tell the critics Mr. Roberts has done nothing wrong," he said. "He has not misspent and lived lavishly off ORU money.

"That's going to be clear," he said.

Richard and Lindsay Roberts still face a lawsuit brought by two former professors, Tim and Paulita Brooker, who claim they were forced out after alleging financial and ethical wrongdoing on the part of Roberts and his family.

The Robertses are also named in a lawsuit brought by Trent Huddleston, a former senior accountant at ORU, who is suing for wrongful termination.

He alleges he was ordered to help "cook the books" by hiding improper and illegal financial wrongdoing from authorities and the public and directed against his will to falsely list thousands of dollars as expenses rather than assets to defraud the Internal Revenue Service.

Richard Roberts resigned days after Huddleston's suit was filed.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

APTV-08-13-08 1655CDT