ORU hit with 3 new lawsuits

The Oklahoman/November 22, 2007

Tulsa — Three more lawsuits rocked scandal-stricken Oral Roberts University on Wednesday, including one claiming Richard and Lindsay Roberts ordered an accountant to "cook the books" to cover up their illegal use of university money for themselves.

While he was a senior accountant for ORU and Oral Roberts Ministries from July 2006 until last month, the Robertses and ORU officials forced Trent Huddleston to engage in illegal accounting practices that hid the true use of thousands of dollars, his lawsuit claims.

"Only time will tell how deep this thing goes, but we keep seeing it unravel," said attorney Gary Richardson, who represents the three who sued Wednesday and the three former professors who sued last month.

The other two lawsuits filed Wednesday were brought by former students of the professors who claim ORU and the Robertses rendered their degrees useless because they "gutted" the government department when they fired the professors.

Richardson said Huddleston's lawsuit contains "fairly stout evidence" of financial wrongdoing alleged in a computer file that has become known as the Cantees Report.

That report, allegedly found in the computer of Lindsay Roberts' sister, Stephanie Cantees, was attached to the lawsuit filed Oct. 2 by the former professors.

About Huddleston's suit

Huddleston's lawsuit claims he was ordered to falsely report thousands of dollars of assets as expenses, which allowed the Robertses to spend university money on their extravagant lifestyle without agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service realizing how the money was being spent.

The couple allegedly spent $122,886 of "improperly" mingled ORU and ministry funds on a home remodeling project and $40,000 on a swimming pool. They also used the money for a pool table and wet bar, the lawsuit claims.

"These are only a few items which were falsely listed," the lawsuit states.

Huddleston's job was recording the fixed assets of ORU for the umbrella of corporations that support the university.

Huddleston claims he was forced out of his position because he refused to remain silent about "the fact the defendants were committing illegal acts." He was often chastised "for asking questions that most accountants would say they need answers to," Richardson said.

On the day Huddleston was forced out, an audit initiated by ORU's regents was set to begin. The audit was ordered after the professors filed their lawsuit, which included the Cantees Report's lurid list of financial and ethical misdeeds by the Roberts family.

The Robertses and other ORU officials forced Huddleston out because of his "history of questioning and challenging" the accounting practices the audit was to analyze, according to the lawsuit.

The defendants in the three lawsuits filed Wednesday are ORU and its board of regents, the ministry and its board of directors, and Richard and Lindsay Roberts.

About the students' suits

Students Cornell Cross II and David Brown filed the other two lawsuits. The fraud suits claim their degrees were devalued when university officials "gutted" the government department by firing professors John Swails and Tim Brooker.

Cross claims he has lost jobs with campaigns and political groups nationwide as a result, in addition to devaluing his degree. Brown, whose plans include transferring to another university next semester, claims ORU is preventing him from finishing his history degree because Swails taught two Middle Eastern history classes he needed to graduate.

All three plaintiffs are seeking more than $10,000 in damages. Cross said this week he wants his student loans paid off, Swails reinstated and Richard and Lindsay Roberts removed from the university.

ORU spokesman Jeremy Burton said school officials had no comment on the students' lawsuit and would review the allegations in Huddleston's lawsuit before commenting.

The lawsuits come at a tumultuous time for ORU. Many faculty members and a top administrator have denounced Richard Roberts and demanded that regents not let him return from the self-imposed leave of absence he took after the former professors sued.

Richard Roberts has denied the professors' allegations and asked the faculty to give him a second chance as president. ORU's regents are expected to discuss the leadership troubles at a meeting next week.

Contributing: Staff Writers Tony Thornton and Larry Levy

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