ORU official denies claims in lawsuit

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TULSA — Federal officials declined to comment Wednesday on whether there was an investigation into violations of the tax code by Oral Roberts University, but the school president had plenty to say to students and staff.

David O’Meilia, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, and David Stell, the Oklahoma spokesman for the Internal Revenue Service, said it was inappropriate for them to comment on whether there was an investigation.

Saying he’d spoken with God, school President Richard Roberts told students and faculty during a weekly chapel service, “Here’s what he told me to say to you, €˜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 not about wrongful termination. It is about intimidation, blackmail and extortion,'” he said.

The breach of contract lawsuit was filed Tuesday against the university, Roberts, provost Mark Lewandowski, associate provost Jeff Ogle and dean Wendy Shirk by three professors who said they were fired or resigned under pressure.

The plaintiffs are John Swails, former chairman of the history, humanities and government department; Tim Brooker, who coordinated the government program; and Brooker’s wife, Paulita, who taught in the humanities and lifelong education departments.

The defendants, who received a copy of the lawsuit on Wednesday, have 20 days to respond.

Tim Brooker joined ORU in 2001. He was recruited by the Republican National Committee to develop a program to further the political group’s efforts. Over several years, the program had success in political races, all outside of Oklahoma, and financed either by the RNC or individual campaign committees, the lawsuit said.

In December 2005, Tim Brooker was summoned to meet with Richard Roberts and Roberts’ sister-in-law Stephanie Cantese, community and governmental liaison for the ministries, the lawsuit stated.

Brooker was instructed by Roberts to use his talent and his students in local political races, specifically that of Randi Miller, seeking the Republican nomination for Tulsa mayor, according to the lawsuit. Miller is now a county commissioner.

The lawsuit states Roberts was told that such action was in violation of the tax code, but he “remained adamant” and directed Brooker to become involved in a partisan political campaign.

In May 2006, the IRS contacted ORU about its involvement in the Miller campaign. Brooker said he was instructed to write a report and “fall on the sword” while taking “full and total blame,” covering up the directives made by Roberts, according to the lawsuit. The first two drafts of Brooker’s report were rejected by ORU officials, the lawsuit states.

Ralph Fagin, then the provost, wrote his own “sanitized and inaccurate” narrative for a sworn affidavit to respond to the IRS, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit states the plaintiffs were targeted after they turned over a report developed by Cantese.

Tulsa attorney Gary Richardson’s firm is representing the professors.

“This suit has been filed by an attorney who has over the years filed many suits against Oral Roberts University for more than, well, multimillions of dollars,” Richard Roberts said Wednesday. “And he has lost every suit that he has filed against the university. I have been down this road with him before.”

Richardson said he was involved in only one past lawsuit involving ORU, involving its hospital building, but that case never went to trial.

“I hate to call him a liar, but he’s a liar,” Richardson said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The Oklahoman, USA
Oct. 4, 2007
Larry Levy

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This post was last updated: Thursday, October 4, 2007 at 6:30 PM, Central European Time (CET)