The president of a major evangelical Christian university asked for a leave amid accusations of lavish spending at donors' expense and illegal involvement in a political campaign.
Richard Roberts, the 58-year-old son of the evangelist who founded Oral Roberts University, said he would continue in his role as chairman and chief executive of Oral Roberts Ministries.
"I don't know how long this leave of absence will last, but I fully trust the members of the Board of Regents," Roberts said in a statement released by the university. "I pray and believe that in God's timing, and when the Board feels that it is appropriate, I will be back at my post as president."
An Oct. 2 lawsuit filed by three former professors says they were wrongfully dismissed and accuses Roberts of misspending at donors' expense, including numerous home remodels and a senior trip to the Bahamas for one daughter on the ministry's dime.
It also accuses Roberts of illegal involvement in a local political campaign, which would violate the university's nonprofit status.
The professors say they were forced out after turning over this information to the board of regents.
The amended complaint also included an internal ministry report, titled "Scandal Vulnerability Assessment," documenting allegations of misconduct by the university and the Roberts family. Only a partial report was included in the Oct. 2 lawsuit.
The more detailed account alleges Richard Roberts' wife, Lindsay, spent the night in the ORU guest house with an underage male "on nine separate occasions," and was photographed 29 times with an underage male in her sports car, among other allegations.
The internal report was prepared by Stephanie Cantees, Richard Roberts' sister-in-law. An ORU spokesman said Cantees would not comment on the report.
In a statement, Lindsay said she lived her life in "a morally upright manner" and had never engaged in any sexual behavior with any man outside of her marriage as the accusations imply.
Gary Richardson, attorney for the dismissed professors, said his clients "stand ready and prepared at the appropriate time to prove the truth of those allegations, and also prove the truth of the fact they were fired after providing the information off Stephanie Cantees' computer to the board of regents.
Oral Roberts, 89, said last week that the allegations against his family had blindsided him, "but we have been through some tough experiences in building Oral Roberts University in the 1960s, and we have surprised them all and have built a university that we believe is for the glory of God."
The Roberts family ministry grew from Southern tent revivals to one of the most successful evangelical empires in the United States, hauling in tens of millions of dollars in contributions a year. The university reported nearly $76 million (53.5 million EUR) in revenue in 2005, according to the IRS.
Roberts famously told viewers in 1987 that God told him to raise $8 million (5.6 million EUR) for the university or he would be "called home."
The week the lawsuit was filed, Richard Roberts said at a chapel service that God told him to deny the allegations. He said God told him: "We live in a litigious society. Anyone can get mad and file a lawsuit against another person whether they have a legitimate case or not. This lawsuit ... is about intimidation, blackmail and extortion."
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