By William Lobdell, Times Staff Writer (September 12,
Televangelist Paul Crouch, founder of the world's
largest Christian broadcasting network, has waged a fierce
legal battle to prevent a former employee from publicizing
allegations that he and Crouch had a sexual encounter eight
Crouch, 70, is the president of Trinity
Broadcasting Network, based in Orange County, whose Christian
programming reaches millions of viewers around the world via
satellite, cable and broadcast stations.
The source of
the allegations against him is Enoch Lonnie Ford, who met
Crouch at a TBN-affiliated drug treatment center in 1991 and
later went to work for the ministry.
threatened to sue TBN in 1998, claiming that he had been
unjustly fired, Crouch reached a $425,000 settlement with him.
In return, Ford agreed, among other things, not to discuss his
claim about a sexual encounter with the TV
But in the last year, Ford has threatened to
go public with his story, prompting a flurry of legal
maneuvers -- conducted in closed court hearings, sealed
pleadings and private arbitration.
In court papers,
Crouch has denied the allegations, and ministry officials have
described Ford -- who has a history of drug problems and has
served time for a sex offense -- as a liar and an
At stake are the public image of one of
the world's most successful televangelists and, potentially,
the fortunes of the broadcasting empire that Crouch and his
wife, Jan, built over the last 31 years.
TBN and Crouch
went on the legal offensive after they learned that Ford had
written a book manuscript that included an account of the
alleged sexual encounter.
In a dramatic flourish, Ford
had appeared at a TBN broadcast studio in Costa Mesa, minutes
before the start of a "Praise-a-thon" fundraiser, and, without
comment, handed Crouch a copy of the manuscript
lawyer later told ministry officials that they could keep the
work out of public view by buying the rights. After some
discussion, he suggested that $10 million might be a
While negotiations continued, Crouch
sued to enforce the 1998 secrecy agreement and obtained a
restraining order barring Ford from seeking a publisher for
Orange County Superior Court Judge John M.
Watson also granted Crouch's
request to conduct the case
in secret, sealing all documents and expunging any mention of
the suit from public court records.
eventually agreed to let a private arbitrator decide the
matter. In June, the arbitrator ruled that Ford could not
publish the manuscript without violating the 1998 settlement
-- an act that could subject him to monetary
This account of the controversy is drawn from
interviews with friends of Ford's, unsealed court records,
correspondence among TBN lawyers and a copy of the
arbitrator's confidential ruling. The arbitrator's decision
contains details about the 1998 settlement and Ford's
manuscript -- both of which are under seal.
interviews show that even as they battled to keep Ford's story
from leaking, TBN lawyers worried that details would
eventually come out.
"I am absolutely amazed that
Lonnie hasn't gone to Penthouse or Dianne [sic] Sawyer with
his manuscript, notwithstanding the [judge's] injunction," TBN
attorney Dennis G. Brewer Sr. wrote in a March letter to the
network's other lawyers.
In a subsequent letter, in
May, Brewer mentioned the anguish that Ford's accusations had
caused Crouch's youngest son, Matt, when he learned of them in
Brewer wrote that the younger Crouch had told his
then-law partner, David Middlebrook: "I am devastated; I am
confronted with having to face the fact that my father is a
Middlebrook and Matt Crouch have denied
that there was such a conversation.
Paul and Jan Crouch started TBN in 1973, using
a rented studio in Santa Ana. Over the next three decades,
they built a worldwide broadcasting network by buying TV
stations and negotiating deals with cable systems and
Today, TBN's 24-hour-a-day menu of
sermons, faith healing, inspirational movies and other
Christian fare reaches millions of viewers from Spain to the
Paul Crouch is the driving
entrepreneurial force behind the network and one of its most
popular on-air personalities. He and Jan, his wife of 46
years, have cultivated a folksy on-screen image as a devoted
TBN officials have long been concerned about
how Ford's allegations could affect the network, which relies
heavily on donations from viewers. Officials said they were
particularly worried about possible comparisons to the scandal
that brought down televangelist Jim Bakker in
Bakker resigned from his PTL Ministries in 1987
after admitting to paying a secretary $265,000 in ministry
funds to be silent about an earlier affair. Bakker later went
to prison for bilking donors.
TBN officials said they
were careful not to pay Ford with ministry funds in 1998. They
declined to say whether the money came from an insurer, Crouch
personally or some other source.
Ford, 41, said he
could not discuss his manuscript or his allegations against
Crouch but he did provide basic facts about his background and
his time at TBN.
Ford, whose father and grandfather
were ministers, grew up in Fairfax County, Va., moved to
California in 1989 and worked in a string of jobs that
included jewelry salesman, produce clerk and gas station
attendant. For years, he struggled to kick a cocaine
In 1991, he checked into a Christian drug
treatment program in Colleyville, Texas, on a TBN-owned ranch.
It was there that Ford met Crouch. In 1992 the network hired
him to work on a phone bank in Orange County. Ford said he
also ran errands for the Crouches and drove Paul Crouch to
Ford repeatedly ran into trouble with the
law, but TBN stood behind him. In 1994, he pleaded no contest
in San Bernardino County to having sex with a 17-year-old boy
and served six months in jail, according to court records. TBN
took him back after his release.
In 1995, he pleaded
guilty in Orange County to possession of cocaine and served
about 30 days in County Jail. Again, TBN took him
Lake Arrowhead Cabin
The alleged sexual
encounter between Ford and Crouch occurred in the fall of
1996, according to Sandi Mahlow, a Tustin housewife who met
Ford in a Fullerton church 10 years ago and became a close
Mahlow, 50, who helped Ford write his
manuscript, said he broke down in tears after returning from a
weekend spent alone with Crouch at a TBN-owned cabin near Lake
Arrowhead. Mahlow said Ford told her that he and Crouch had
engaged in sexual acts.
"Lonnie had a lot of bad
traits; one thing he isn't, and that's a liar," Mahlow said.
She said she helped Ford with his manuscript for no pay, as a
favor to a friend, and has no financial interest in the
After the alleged encounter, Ford continued to
work at TBN. For a time, he lived rent-free in an apartment at
the network's Tustin headquarters, according to Mahlow and
another friend of Ford's, Diane Benson, who met him at an
Anaheim church 14 years ago.
A third friend of Ford's
said that in October 1996, about the time of the alleged
Arrowhead encounter, ministry officials gave her a $12,000
check to pay back money Ford owed her. The woman spoke on
condition that she not be named, saying she feared
TBN officials acknowledged that the
ministry paid some of Ford's debts. They said the network
commonly extends such generosity to employees in financial
Within weeks of the Arrowhead trip, Ford
tested positive for drug use and was arrested for violating
terms of his probation. While Ford awaited sentencing, the
ministry again came to his support, urging the judge not to
impose more prison time.
Ford "has continuously shown a
very positive attitude regarding whatever we have asked him to
do," wrote Ruth M. Brown, Paul Crouch's sister and TBN's
director of personnel. "He carried out his duties cheerfully
and always tries to do more than asked."
The judge sent
Ford to the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, a drug
treatment facility in the state prison system.
August 1997, Jay Jones, TBN's director of telephone ministry,
wrote prison officials that Ford would have a job with the
network after he got out, despite his "extended leave of
But Ford said that after he was released in
February 1998, he was told he no longer had a position at
"There comes a point in time when you have to say,
'Enough is enough,' "said John Casoria, a TBN lawyer who is a
nephew of the Crouches.
Ford responded with his threat
to sue. The settlement followed.
Despite TBN's efforts
to keep Ford's charges secret, they surfaced in an unrelated
1998 lawsuit. A former bodyguard for TBN personality Benny
Hinn testified in a deposition that during a European bus tour
that year, Hinn had told a group of associates about "a sexual
relationship that Paul Crouch had with his
The witness, Mario C. Licciardello, quoted
Hinn as saying: "Paul's defense was that he was
Hinn and six others mentioned by Licciardello,
who died in 2000, told The Times that Hinn never made such
remarks. However, Rick Jones, a retired police officer and
ordained minister who worked for Hinn, said he heard Hinn talk
about Crouch's alleged homosexual relationship on that
Jones said he was disgusted by the talk and "got
up and walked away. I didn't want to hear
Asking $10 Million
began to have second thoughts about keeping silent. Last year,
with Mahlow's help, he wrote his manuscript, titled
Friends said Ford wanted to expose what he
viewed as Crouch's hypocrisy. They said he also needed money
and hoped to earn some by selling the manuscript. It's unclear
how Ford spent his 1998 settlement, but today he leads a
modest existence, living in a room of a Lake Forest home and
working as a mortgage salesman.
learned of the book in April 2003, when Ford walked
the set of TBN's Costa Mesa broadcast studio and handed a copy
of the manuscript to Crouch.
Ford's attorney, Eugene
Zech, said that Brewer, the TBN lawyer, called him the next
business day. In court papers, Zech said that Brewer asked "if
Ford might be willing to accept $1 million in exchange for the
Zech said in the court filing that he
suggested $10 million.
When the parties went to
arbitration, Crouch's lawyers argued that publication would
violate the 1998 settlement and cause irreparable damage to
Crouch's reputation. Ford's lawyers argued that the secrecy
agreement was overly broad and violated his free-speech
Arbitrator Robert J. Neill ruled that Ford's
right to make his allegations public "was sold to [Crouch] for
$425,000." Ford "bargained away his right to speak on certain
matters and now suggests that his right to free speech trumps
that bargain.... [His] right to discuss these matters was
bought and paid for. He relinquished that right."
Crouch Jr., a TBN executive and the televangelist's oldest
son, said that despite the favorable ruling, he wished his
father had never entered into the settlement with
Crouch said advisors persuaded his father that it
would be cheaper to settle than to litigate. He said TBN was
particularly anxious to avoid negative publicity because the
ministry was celebrating its 25th anniversary that
"In hindsight, we should have fought Lonnie tooth
and nail," the son said in an interview. "We should have drawn
the battle lines right there."
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