TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Some money that flowed into Oral Roberts Ministries earmarked by donors for scholarships or other campus needs was instead placed in an “unmarked, miscellaneous” account shared by both the ministry and Oral Roberts University, a former ministry employee told The Associated Press.
The employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, worked in a department that processed thousands of dollars a day.
She said there was “no consistency, rhyme or reason” for which donations went into the unmarked account ’Äî be it checks written to the university or the ministry ’Äî and which went to the actual departments they were set aside for by the donors.
Because the department handled so much money, she said it would be impossible to determine how much of it was diverted into the unmarked account.
Her description of the account appears to corroborate some claims by a former ORU accountant, who alleges in a wrongful termination lawsuit that he had “limited access to unrestricted accounts” and discovered one account used to “funnel exceedingly large sums of money through the university each month that was not used for any legitimate university purpose.”
The former accountant, Trent Huddleston, also alleges that former university president Richard Roberts and his wife, Lindsay, “co-mingled” and spent university and ministry funds.
The Robertses have repeatedly denied wrongdoing. ORU spokesman Jeremy Burton said Wednesday that the school was “unaware of this anonymous and apparently unfounded accusation.”
“Due to the absence of any facts regarding the alleged transaction and the gag order entered in pending litigation, ORU is unable to comment further,” said Burton, referring to a judge's ruling barring all parties from discussing the case outside of court.
The allegations by the former employee would amount to “a huge no-no” for any nonprofit organization, said Ole Anthony, whose Dallas-based Trinity Foundation investigates and reports on fraud in religious ministries and probed Oral Roberts Ministries in the early 1990s.
“To raise money for a purpose and then not use the money for that purpose, this is where ministries have gotten in trouble with the IRS,” Anthony said. “It's just one example of how ministries need real oversight.”
The former employee, who was also a student at ORU, worked for the ministry for about four months in 2006. Huddleston, the accountant, also worked at ORU during this time, records indicate.
Soon after she began her job, the former ministry employee said she noticed “red flags.”
She described handling a $500 donation with a letter earmarking the money for “a student who couldn't otherwise go to ORU,” that ended up in the unmarked account.
“It just broke my heart,” she said. “Money earmarked for specific university (departments) went into an unmarked fund.
“So, it's getting juggled around quite a bit,” she said.
She says she went to her supervisors to report the apparent irregularities, but was met with resistance.
“(I was) strong-armed, intimidated,” she said. “I was told: this is the way things work, if you don't like the way it works, maybe this isn't the place for you.”
She later resigned and left the school.
“As a student employee, it was quite disconcerting,” she said. “If all of this money is coming in, I thought there's got to be some money to help keep me here.”
The employee's statements illustrate what had been a major criticism of the institution for years: the blurring of the line between the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association and the university.
After Richard Roberts resigned last fall amid allegations he misspent school funds to live in luxury, billionaire Oklahoma City businessman Mart Green took over, calling for the ministry and the university to operate separately.
Green, the chairman of the university's board of trustees, also pledged to restore the public's trust in the school.
Burton, the school spokesman, said the shared governance structure under ORU's new board of trustees has “a number of measures in place to safeguard the finances of the university,” including a committee to review financial matters, an annual audit done by an outside firm and the hiring of an internal auditor who reports directly to the board.
Word of an unmarked account came as little surprise this week to some ORU critics.
“I'm angered,” said ORU alumnus Cornell Cross, who led the call last year for greater transparency from school leaders. “I think it's disgusting to hear that money that honest people sent to help needy students (went into) other people's pockets.”
The school and the Robertses still face several lawsuits.
Former professors Tim and Paulita Brooker claim they were forced out after alleging financial and ethical wrongdoing on the part of Roberts and his family.
Some of the allegations include the Robertses 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.
Huddleston alleges he was ordered to help “cook the books” by hiding improper and illegal financial wrongdoing 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.