Oklahoma: Lawsuit claims employee ordered to help 'cook the books'

Associated Press/November 22, 2007

Tulsa - A senior accountant for Oral Roberts University was ordered to help school president Richard Roberts and his wife, Lindsay, "cook the books," by hiding improper and illegal financial wrongdoing from the authorities and the public, a lawsuit filed Wednesday claims.

Trent Huddleston was hired in 2006 and spent 15 months at the school. He was responsible for recording the fixed assets of the university and delegating them to several corporations formed by the defendants named in the suit, which include the Robertses, the university, the ministry and school's board of regents.

Huddleston claims in the wrongful termination lawsuit that he was directed against his will to falsely list thousands of dollars as expenses rather than assets - which were spent remodeling the home of Richard and Lindsay Roberts - in order to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and other agencies.

ORU spokesman Jeremy Burton said the university is reviewing the allegations and had no further comment Wednesday. Roberts, who has been on temporary leave while an outside probe into the school's finances continues, has denied wrongdoing.

Huddleston's suit states that "he was improperly and unlawfully directed to perform functions and duties in violation of state and federal law in an effort by the defendants to 'cook the books' and hide from the appropriate authorities and the public the continued wrongdoing, improper and illegal conduct of the defendants, and in particular, of Richard and Lindsay Roberts."

He says the couple co-mingled and spent university and ministry funds, and that funds donated by one church were spent on the Roberts' home.

He claims nearly $123,000 in expenditures were paid by Oral Roberts University and Oral Roberts Ministries for remodeling the home. He said more than $40,000 of university and ministry money went for a new swimming pool and nearly $5,000 was spent on a pool table.

Huddleston claims he was instructed not to contact certain departments or individuals about expenditures and was not allowed to question their authenticity.

He claims he was discharged on the day an audit was to take place. The audit was ordered by the school's regents two weeks after three professors brought a wrongful termination lawsuit against ORU accusing Richard Roberts of misusing school funds to support a lavish lifestyle.

Huddleston's lawsuit states that his discharge came "in retaliation for his refusal to remain silent about the fact that the defendants were committing illegal acts with regard to the finances of the various parties."

The professors' Oct. 2 lawsuit against Richard Roberts includes allegations of a $39,000 shopping tab at one store for Lindsay Roberts; a $29,411 Bahamas senior trip on the university jet for one of Roberts' daughters and a stable of horses for the Roberts children, among other accusations.

That suit also alleged the Robertses university-owned home was remodeled 11 times in 14 years. Richard and Lindsay Roberts have said many of the remodeling projects were because of black mold and hail damage.

Gary Richardson, the attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Huddleston, said the allegations against the Robertses are "becoming a bit mind-boggling."

"When you look at some of the expenditures, it seems to me it might be offensive to some of the folks who follow the teachings of Richard Roberts," said Richardson, who also filed the October lawsuit on behalf of the three former ORU professors.

Huddleston's lawsuit was among three filed Wednesday in district court.

Two others were filed on behalf of ORU students Cornell Cross II and David Brown. Both claim ORU's wrongful termination of the three professors, John Swails and Tim and Paulita Brooker, ruined the reputation of their degrees. Brown states that he cannot complete his degree at ORU because of Swails' termination and is looking to transfer schools. Cross says an attempt to transfer will invalidate half the credits he earned at ORU.

"This was a complete, 100 percent destruction of the degree," Cross said Wednesday.

The lawsuits come after more than 80 percent of ORU faculty voted this week against Roberts continuing as president at the 5,700-student school.

Next week, the school's regents are expected to discuss that vote, as well as a similar one cast last week by tenured faculty members giving Roberts a "no confidence" vote as president, regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit.

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