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Controversy at Oral Roberts University

Aired October 17, 2007 - 14:30   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Much has been made of the controversy at Oral Roberts University. Richard Roberts, the president now, has said he wants a leave of absence. The controversy surrounding him and his wife and the finances there at the university. We're going to continue to follow this in the CNN NEWSROOM. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.

LEMON: We go now to a developing story this afternoon. The president of Oral Roberts University, Richard Roberts, is taking a leave of absence. He says the past three weeks have taken a terrible toll on his family. A lawsuit filed by three former professors accuses Roberts and his wife of lavish spending, illegal involvement in a political campaign and other more serious things. Richard Roberts denies the allegations. He says he'll continue as chairman and CEO of Oral Roberts Ministries and expects to return as university president when the board feels it is appropriate. The university was founded in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by Roberts' father, Evangelist Oral Roberts. The controversy could potentially bring ORU to its knees. CNN's David Mattingly reports.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Prayer is a staple of life at Tulsa, Oklahoma's Oral Roberts University, maybe even more now than usual.

JOHN SWAILS, FORMER ORU PROFESSOR: We thought, oh, no, we thought maybe this isn't true.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We hope this isn't true.

SWAILS: So we began to pray.

MATTINGLY: Tim Brooker and John Swails are among three former ORU professors who tell CNN they were fired after reporting information that if true could cost the university untold millions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could easily lose its tax exempt status.

MATTINGLY: Broker says University President Richard Roberts ordered him to use students and the political expertise of his government studies program to support a family friend running for mayor. The candidate lost and Brooker says he was ordered to take responsibility when the IRS investigated complaints. But that was nothing compared to what the professors say happened next. They claim it started with a computer belonging to Roberts' sister in law.

TIM BROOKER, FORMER ORU PROFESSOR: She loaned her computer to one of the students to use during the campaign. And it was while he was in possession of the loaned computer that he discovered these files which were stored on the hard drive.

MATTINGLY (on camera): The contents of those files are described in a lawsuit that portrays Richard Roberts and his wife Lindsay as big spenders relying on university resources for personal luxury.

(Voice-over): Allegations listed include using the university jet to send a daughter and friends to the Bahamas. Remodeling the Roberts' home at university expense 11 times in 14 years. Spending $51,000 on clothes then renovating a spacious home office into a massive walk-in closet. But it doesn't stop there. A house, cars and thousands of dollars in cell phone bills all allegedly paid for by the university and the ministry. And the professors claim some things in the files even they don't want public.

BROOKER: We're interested in truth and we're interested in justice. And the things that were in those files, if untrue, would be so damaging that they could never recover. I just am not comfortable going any further, that's why we didn't put them in.

MATTINGLY: The suit also accuses Lindsay Roberts of cell phone bills exceeding $800 a month with more than 800 text messages many quote, "From Mrs. Roberts were sent to underage males often between 1:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m., who had been provided phones at university expense." We contacted ORU officials for comment but there was no reply. In a statement the university said the allegations were based on unsubstantiated rumors and innuendoes. And that it will deal with them through the legal process.

RICHARD ROBERTS, PRESIDENT, ORAL ROBERTS UNIV.: 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.

MATTINGLY: At chapel services Roberts also responded saying God had given him these words.

ROBERTS: It is about intimidation, blackmail and extortion. Make no mistake about it, this suit is about money. I am confident that when the real truth is known, there will be no more questions.

MATTINGLY: Roberts' accusers are seeking unspecified damages for breach of contract and defamation. They say the lawsuit is not about money.

MATTINGLY: And what is God telling you?

SWAILS: He's telling us that he put us in this position and he's directing us to make a stand.

MATTINGLY: David Mattingly, CNN, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE) WHITFIELD: And a suspected child rapist is captured. Now people from his past, people who knew him intimately are speaking out. One of Chester Stiles' ex-girlfriends talks to CNN coming up.

But first, environmentally friendly homes don't have to be made with straw bales or tires. CNN's Miles O'Brien has more on houses that are energy efficient and stylish.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Washington is well known for hot air, this event is all about harnessing it. They're calling it the solar decathlon. 20 teams from U.S. colleges here on the mall competing to design and build the most efficient, the most novel, the coolest looking solar home of the future. This one is called the leaf house.

JOHN KUCIR, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: (INAUDIBLE) panels on the roof, the bright sunlight just like a leaf. On the inside we have thermal insulated materials so if you're under a tree you keep cool.

O'BRIEN: The home was built by the team from the University of Maryland. The exterior walls are covered with living plants whose leaves reduce water runoff. This house is modular built from two shipping containers. The University of Colorado team says it can be easily mass produced. This one from Texas A & M is made of prefab walls, floors and roofs that come with the solar collectors built in that can be snapped together.

RICHARD KIRG, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY: The schools of architecture have done wonderful work at designing buildings, putting them together so the solar system is aesthetic and integrated.

O'BRIEN: The competition is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The winner will be picked this weekend but the real goal is to bring some of these bright ideas from the national mall to a shopping mall before too long. Miles O'Brien, CNN.


WHITFIELD: The search continues in connection with a fatal attempted bank robbery just outside of Atlanta. You're looking at aerial views right now. The Bank of America, where witnesses say four suspects tried to carry out a bank robbery at this branch. Apparently police were called and when police arrived then gunfire was exchanged. One person was killed. It's still unclear the identity of the person who was killed. But the search is on for the suspects still, right outside of Atlanta.

LEMON: There is new video today of Chester Arthur Stiles before a judge in Las Vegas. Police searched for Stiles for more than two weeks, in connection with the videotaped rape of a little girl. He was arrested by Nevada police Monday night after being stopped for a missing license plate. He faces 21 felony charges including lewdness with a child and using a child to make pornography. He didn't enter pleas today. He only spoke to confirm that he can't afford a lawyer.

Home video of happier times for Chester Arthur Stiles; he's the man in police custody today in Las Vegas, charged with raping a child, and, of course, videotaping it. Since his arrest last Monday in Nevada, we've heard details about Stiles, his private life, from those who know him best. CNN's Nancy Grace spoke to one woman, a one-time girlfriend, about the day she saw his face on TV.


ELAINE THOMAS, STILES FMR. GIRLFRIEND: When the enhanced photos came out on the news, when I realized that it definitely was him, I knew that there was really nothing else I could do. How could I not tell them who that man was? That little girl suffered unimaginable things, and I knew for a fact it was him. The pictures --

NANCY GRACE, CNN HEADLINE PRIME ANCHOR: Oh, my God, I can't imagine. Miss Thomas, when you first saw that video on television, what went through your mind? I want to hear. Were you walking by the TV? Were you sitting on the sofa eating some popcorn? Were you at work, and it was playing in the background?

THOMAS: It was on the 11 o'clock news. I was in my bedroom. I was playing on my computer and I had the local news on the TV. And it was just kind of running in the background. I wasn't paying a whole lot of attention to it. Until the pictures flashed across the screen and they showed the picture of him from the waist up -- and I screamed.


WHITFIELD: Well Internet predators, they troll the web, they target the young and the impressionable. Is nothing done to stop them before they strike? Well, this young woman says no, and she should know. She is Alicia Kozakiewicz. Six years ago she was seduced by, and kidnapped by, a man she met on the Internet. She survived an unthinkable ordeal, but didn't believe she would at the time.


ALICIA KOZAKIEWICZ, ABDUCTED, ABUSED IN 2002: I knew that this madman would murder me; that I had maybe hours to live. And that no one, no one, not even myself, had a clue where he had hidden me. But with the faith of a child, I believed in the ability of law enforcement to do the impossible, to find me.

And I found the strength to endure and to pray for that miracle. And I got that miracle. They had the training, the knowledge, and the expertise. They found that needle in the haystack. They found me. I'm here to tell you that most kids don't get that miracle. They die. Or remain enslaved, or horribly, horribly, horribly exploited.


WHITFIELD: Right now, the same young lady is testifying live there on Capitol Hill. A Judiciary Committee oversight hearing is under way. The search now to find ways to combat this kind of Internet sex crimes, a pattern, that seems to be taking place.

Brave young lady testifying, there on the Hill, telling much more about her story and perhaps giving some suggestions as to what could be done to try to stop these Internet predators.

LEMON: Those hearings will continue on Capitol Hill and we'll continue to follow them. If any news comes we'll bring it to you.

Severe storms now taking aim at the Southern Plains. We have reports already of a tornado touching down in Texas. Very latest now from Meteorologist Chad Myers in the Severe Weather Center.

Chad, already touching down?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It was one of the early ones. We're still waiting for the atmosphere to heat up. Because that's what it does. This is a spring-like day. I know the calendar says fall, but the same type of thing that happens in the spring that happen in the fall.

In the spring warm air tries to push up and get rid of the cold air while in the fall it is the opposite. Anytime you have things pushing on each other, warm and cold, you are going to get the potential for severe weather.


WHITFIELD: It's a killer and it's a lot more common than we actually thought. A superbug creeping into your school, your gym, maybe even you. The government is warning all of us about it. We'll talk to an expert straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

LEMON: Scary.


WHITFIELD: Familiar places, your school, your gym, your hospital, your own body; places where you might find a drug resistant staph infection, known as MRSA, which the government now says might kill more Americans each year than AIDS.

Its latest reported victim, a 17-year-old Virginia high schooler. His classmates put up a protest that led to 21 schools getting shut down for a thorough scrubbing. The government says the superbug might be more common than we actually thought.

Let's get some perspective from Doctor Susan Ray of Emory University here in Atlanta; and she is with the Division of Infectious Diseases.

So this form of staph has actually been around a while, but it seems like it's being fuelled by something. What? Just the fact that it is resistant to certain drugs?

DR. SUSAN RAY, EMORY UNIV., DEPT. OF MEDICINE: Well, I think that is important in hospital infections. And we've known that since the '70s. It's become more and more common in hospitals to have a resistant staph infection. And this is well known among infectious disease and actually all physicians.

But in the last decade, around the world, and including the United States, we have seen an increase in skin infections in the community that are caused by resistant staph. And we don't know the precise reason for that increase.

WHITFIELD: I think when folks think staph, and whether they are vulnerable to staph, they are thinking about open wounds, incisions, recent incisions, that are operations you may have gotten at your hospital, etc cetera. When you say these skin infections we're saying that your skin is just that porous where it's that easy to contract this? Must you have an open wound, or cut or something?

RAY: Staph is actually very talented at causing infection on skin that appears normal. You needn't have a cut, although a cut does make you more susceptible to invasion.

WHITFIELD: So, you're looking for a rash now?

RAY: For a boil or an abscess, this would be the form that we would appreciate staph infections most commonly in the community. In our community people might call that a razen (ph), but a more common term that we would use as a doctor would be a boil or an abscess.

WHITFIELD: Anywhere on your body.

RAY: Anywhere on your body.

WHITFIELD: Or on mostly contact places, like your hands?

RAY: Actually some private locations that people are not happy to talk about, and may not be happy to share with anyone that they have such a problem, because it's such a private location. Under the arms, so places that are likely to be sweaty, or lacerated by like abrasions from clothing rubbing against it. Those tend to be some of the areas of the body we see, although it can happen anywhere on the body.

WHITFIELD: Anywhere. So now you as a patient, you as just a person have to say to yourself, when this pops up you have to get it addressed right away. Is it an issue how quickly you have a doctor look at it? Are you just in trouble if you get it period?

RAY: Most people who get a skin infection with a staph germ actually aren't in big trouble. For most people it is a self--limited problem. An abscess will appear, it will drain, and resolve. However, a small proportion of people with such an abscess could develop a serious and invasive disease. And what we recommend is that people let their doctor know if they are having abscesses. It's common for abscesses to come sort of in groups, or to have a period of time where you notice these happening over and over.

WHITFIELD: So if there's no way to treat it because we're saying these are drug resistant. What do you do? Is it as simple at the early stages you need to keep it clean with regular soap and water? Peroxide, what do you do?

RAY: Those are good recommendations. Local care is also very important. It is drug resistant but not untreatable. There are anti- bacterial antibiotics that do treat resistant staph, and some that are actually old, and have been around for a long time.

What is unique is that it's resistant to what we would have prescribed 10 or 15 years ago as a common antibiotic to treat a skin infection in the community. That antibiotic will not work. And so doctors now are learning, I think, it's very well known, that we need to consider resistance to that agent, and use other agents that are successful against drug resistant staph.

WHITFIELD: Wow, it is scary stuff. Do we need to be alarmed?

RAY: I don't think we all need to be afraid to go out of our houses or enter the community as usual. I think it's very important for people to be attuned to good wound care, if they have an abscess, to keep it covered. To keep the drainage away from other people, and to use good hygiene in terms of hand washing. And not share things like towel, razors, objects, or clothing that might spread drainage from a wound.

WHITFIELD: All right. Dr. Susan Ray, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

RAY: Thanks.

LEMON: High praise for the spiritual head of Tibet's Buddhist from America's most powerful leaders, but at what cost to U.S.-China's relations? More on the Dalai Lama's honors on Capitol Hill, straight ahead, in the CNN NEWSROOM.


Ellen Degeneres has an emotional breakdown on her show. We have the latest behind the star's tearful moments when the NEWSROOM returns. Stay with us.


LEMON: I know it's entertainment news, but there's a lot of tears going on here today, especially from someone who usually is making people laugh. We're talking about Ellen Degeneres, and it's her tears over a dog that's making news today. Entertainment News Correspondent Brooke Anderson joins me now.

And, Brooke, everyone is buzzing about Ellen and this dog. What is going on?

ANDERSON: Well, Don, yesterday everybody was stunned because Ellen opened her show in tears. She was bawling, really, basically saying, Hey, I'm having a horrible day. I cannot pretend to be upbeat or be happy. She then explained she had adopted a dog from a rescue organization, a dog, Iggy. She had had it trained and neutered, but ultimately it didn't get along with her cat.

So she gave the dog away. She gave it to her hairdresser, who has two daughters and they wanted a puppy. But the rescue organization, Mutts & Moms, said oh, no, no, no, you don't have proper permission to do that. This is breach of contract. This weekend they took the dog away. So, take a listen now to the emotional plea from Ellen Degeneres.


ELLEN DEGENERES, TALK SHOW HOST: I tried to find a loving home for the dog, because I couldn't keep it. I was trying to do a good thing. And because I did it wrong, those people went and took that dog out of their home, and took it away from the kids. And I feel totally responsible for it and I'm so sorry. And I'm begging them to give that dog back to that family.

I just, I just want them to -- the family to have the dog. It's not their fault. It's my fault. I shouldn't have given the dog away. Just please give the dog back, to those little girls.


ANDERSON: According to a spokesman for the owners of the pet adoption agency the dog will not be returned to that family. And Don, that they will not be bullied by somebody with wealth and power.

LEMON: You know, just being honest here. I really like Ellen Degeneres and the reaction I get from everyone it seems like a bit of an overreaction. I mean, she wasn't this emotional when she came out of the closet, which seems like much more of a serious thing.

ANDERSON: Right she was very emotional during that time, you're right. This does seem to have really struck a chord with her. And, you know, we were talking in our editorial meeting this morning that she didn't seem quite this emotional, although she was, very upset after Hurricane Katrina. And she is from Louisiana. This is obviously very distressing for her. Take a look, a quick look now at how inconsolable she was.


DEGENERES: Those people went and took that dog out of their home, and took it away from those kids. And I feel totally responsible for it and I'm so sorry. And I'm begging them to give that dog back to that family.

I just want them to -- the family to have the dog. It's not their fault. It's my fault. I shouldn't have given the dog away.


ANDERSON: Yeah, and this went on, Don, for a couple of minutes. She is known for loving animals, wanting to protect them. She just did not take the proper steps to ensure they have a good home. That's the problem here. I'm sure that her viewers appreciated her honesty. And then she spoke out about it again today on her show. And she said she wants the fighting to stop and she prays it dog is returned to the family.

LEMON: I guess she is -- she is a dog lover and that's why. I don't know. Who else is speaking out about this at this point?

ANDERSON: Well, the family who lost the dog has spoken to Listen to what one of the daughters said.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want my dog back so badly.


ANDERSON: OK, even though I'm sure they are very heart broken and may have bonded with the dog. I do want to say it's lucky they didn't have the dog the entire life. They only had the dog, Iggy, for a couple of weeks. Now, the owners of the pet agency say rules are rules, and that the regulations are put in place to protect the animals. They have to screen the applicants before allowing any dog to be adopted.

They also say they have received online and voice mail threats of death and of arson. And the Pasadena police department tells us that owner Marina Bactus (ph), actually filed a police report yesterday about this alleged harassment.

So, don, obviously both sides are saying, Ellen, and the owners of the adoption agency are saying they work in the best interest of the animals, that they are strongly disagreeing over the best way to do that.

LEMON: It's, you know, we sort of did an informal poll. A lot of people adopt dogs and they may not be as sure of these rules. And if you, if you're going to adopt a dog chances are you're going to give it to someone good. So, it's just a little odd. I know, have you spoken to PETA about this? Are they saying anything?

ANDERSON: We did. PETA issued a statement. They are not really taking one side or the other. Listen to this, "At a time when so many people in Hollywood like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton are making impetuous pet purchases PETA commends Ellen for adopting a homeless animal from a shelter. We know that Ellen was trying to do the right thing. She just missed a step.

And they go on to say, Don, that hopefully she will learn from this experience. And it's quite obvious from her actions on the show that she seems to have done just that.

LEMON: It is just rough all over. Again, I'm sure you know, it's just a matter of reading the fine print. I'm sure most people who adopt animals don't know that in some contracts you're supposed to if you want to give it away, or have it readopted, that you're supposed to go back through. I think it's just an honest mistake on her part.

ANDERSON: If that's not made verbally clear up front it would be hard to overlook it. I agree.

LEMON: What else do you have coming up tonight? Anything interesting we should know about?

ANDERSON: We have more, we have more on Ellen Degeneres. And did she do the right thing by giving the dog away? "Showbiz Tonight," TV's most provocative entertainment news show, as you know, 11 Eastern and Pacific on CNN Headline Prime. We do hope you join us then.

LEMON: Of course, we will. Thank you so much for that, Brooke. Good to see you.

ANDERSON: You, too.

WHITFIELD: Well, Don, straight ahead this is pretty shocking. A woman drives her car on to railroad tracks and stalls. Unaware that an Amtrak train is bearing down on her at 70 miles per hour. Hear from a hero cop who came to the rescue straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.


WHITFIELD: Take a look at this. A life-saving move just in the nick of time.

Greer, South Carolina, is the place. Police Sergeant Marcus O'Shields is getting a lot of thanks today from Betsy Duvall (ph).

LEMON: Whoo!

WHITFIELD: Uh-huh, close call. He helped Duvall from her car, that had actually stalled on the railroad tracks, just before that vehicle was actually hit by this speeding by Amtrak train. You can hear her audio, where she realizes that her life was -- whoo, narrowly saved there.