TULSA, Okla. - A Beverly Hills house and country club membership. Vacations in Palm Springs and the South Seas. A closet as big as an apartment, stuffed with hundreds of pairs of shoes, suits, dresses, and golf shoes.
People with close ties to TV evangelist Oral Roberts and his son, Richard, say they witnessed such extravagances years before a recent lawsuit accusing them of lavish spending engulfed the ministers and their debt-ridden university in scandal.
Harry McNevin said in a recent interview that he quit the Board of Regents at Oral Roberts University in disgust in 1987 after it became clear that the Robertses were dipping into the school's endowment fund for their personal use.
"We were dealing in millions," he said.
The luxurious ways of some of America's top evangelists have come under scrutiny on various fronts recently. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley announced a Senate investigation last week into whether six celebrity preachers violated their organizations' tax-exempt status by living lavishly on the backs of small donors.
The Robertses are not among the six. But those targeted include three members of the ORU Board of Regents: Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, and Benny Hinn.
In her 1983 memoir, "Ashes to Gold," Richard Roberts's first wife, Patti, documented the jet-set lifestyle: a blue Mercedes as a Christmas gift for Richard, a Jaguar for her, and Palm Beach vacations.
"We lived like characters in a novel or a made-for-TV movie about the beautiful people, and I reveled in it," she wrote. "Having made a truce, albeit an uneasy one, with my conscience over the source of our wealth, I proceeded to enjoy its prerogatives with total abandon."
Richard Roberts, who is paid $228,000 a year as university president, has taken a leave of absence pending an investigation.
But he disputed the recent allegations of overspending, which are contained in a wrongful-dismissal lawsuit filed by three former ORU professors, and said he pays personal expenses out of his pocket.
Interviewed on a flight aboard the university's leased Hawker 700 jet to a recent TV interview in New York, Roberts said the lawsuit is "a personal character attack."
The university declined to comment on McNevin's accusation that endowment funds were tapped for personal spending.
Oral Roberts University is more than $50 million in debt. Its campus - dominated by a 60-foot bronze sculpture of praying hands - is starting to look shabby, and a long-promised student center remains in limbo.