EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: Trouble for Bryan College, The Importance of Financial Oversight, and Police Chief Defends Case Against Pastor John Blanchard
Editor’s Note: Most Saturdays we will feature this “Editor’s Notebook” column. MinistryWatch President Warren Smith will comment on one or more stories in the week’s news, adding an additional perspective or, sometimes, a behind-the-scenes look at how the story came to be.
Trouble For Bryan College? There’s a new development in the conflict between Bryan College and the National Association of Christian Athletes (NACA). The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville held on January 9 that the circuit court for Rhea County had erred in dismissing the claims alleged by NACA against Bryan College.
NACA has long claimed that Bryan College improperly took ownership of Fort Bluff Camp, valued at $7 million. The lawsuit and the publicity surrounding it has also divided alumni and financial supporters. NACA will still have to prove its claims in a lower court, but it’s hard to see how this is not a significant blow to Bryan College. The claims NACA is making against the school are not trivial. They include conversion, unjust enrichment, conspiracy, and fraudulent inducement.
Bryan College will take an immediate financial hit, since the court ordered Bryan College to pay for the cost of this appeal. And if it loses when the merits of the case are argued, its balance sheet would take a huge hit – which could impact the school’s overall creditworthiness.
John Ballinger is the president of NACA. He said, “This has been five years of just being patient, persistent and persevering, to get to that ruling. We felt like the justice in the appeals court finally heard what we’ve been trying to say to the public and Bryan College.” He said he hopes the case ends up getting settled.
The likelihood of that just went up.
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Hiding In Plain Sight. This week we featured a story that by some standards is run-of-the-mill for MinistryWatch. It’s the story of a church treasurer in Kentucky who will begin a 33-month prison sentence in March for wire fraud and must pay over $500,000 in restitution to the church he stole from.
The facts are pretty straightforward. Court documents say that from December 2015 until July 2019, church treasurer Ralph Tackett, 66, embezzled $512,042 from Victory Life Church in Georgetown, Kentucky, and intentionally concealed bank account statements from church leaders to avoid detection.
In court, Tackett claimed he needed money to pay a blackmailer. Records show Tackett directly paid $187,356 on his credit cards with church funds to pay off an out-of-state individual threatening him. Court records acknowledged evidence that Tackett was a victim of cyberstalking and legitimately fearful of exposure of his sexual exploits.
What was interesting to me about this story is the fact that this fraud should never have happened. The church had almost no internal controls or oversight. The sentencing memorandum suggests one of the reasons Tackett was able to get away with his crime is that there were no checks and balances built into the accounting process at the church.
“Any simple review of the church’s bank account statements alone, for example, would have revealed Mr. Tackett’s crime. He stole money by making electronic transfers, cashing checks into his personal bank account, and literally taking money from offering trays – the means to his ends were simple, easy, and opportunistic,” the memorandum said.
Wait. What? We’ve reported on Virginia pastor John Blanchard before, but this week his story takes an unusual twist. First, though, a bit of background.
In Oct. 2021, Virginia pastor John Blanchard was one of 17 men arrested in connection with a prostitution sting, and he was subsequently charged with solicitation of prostitution from a minor. The charges against him were subsequently dropped.
But this is where it takes an unusual turn.
While his charges were tentatively dropped a year later in Oct. 2022, prosecutors and police and even one Virginia lawmaker have apparently been at odds over whether Blanchard should be brought to trial.
Virginia State Delegate Tim Anderson, who represents Virginia Beach and is also a lawyer, has been particularly critical.
“In my legal opinion, from what I have seen, there’s no excuse not to prosecute this case,” Anderson said in Nov. 2022. “If [Blanchard is] found not guilty or if he’s acquitted, that’s one thing. But to use prosecutorial discretion and say nothing happened here, that’s, in my opinion, an abuse of discretion.”
The local police chief, Jeffrey Katz, has also been critical of how this case has been handled. Early in the process he supported local prosecutors. He said, “The decision to prosecute—or not prosecute—a case rests with the County’s elected Commonwealth Attorney.” Recently, though, he has been critical of the way the case has been handled, especially Blanchard’s request to have his criminal record expunged.
He posted on Facebook a statement unlike any I’ve ever seen from a local police chief regarding the prosecutor’s decision: “AS A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE. I have found it necessary to make a few public statements regarding the arrest of Pastor John Blanchard. These statements have consistently reinforced my fervent support for the quality of the case and the investigative efforts of my staff. That has not changed.”
Katz then reminded his readers that, according to police, Blanchard was caught texting an undercover agent posing as a 17-year-old, using texting lingo known to represent solicitation for sex. “I believe a jury of Chesterfield County residents deserves to weigh in on the matter of criminal culpability,” Katz concluded.
Katz said there was sufficient evidence to go to trial. Katz said, “We know what we are doing, we do it very well, and we will continue to proceed with such investigations in the future. Any assertion to the contrary needs to be articulated by the Commonwealth Attorney. Despite numerous convictions on cases with similar – and in some cases less compelling evidence – we have not been given any guidance as to where this investigation fell short of prosecutorial expectations.”
In the meantime, John Blanchard continues to preach, though we’ll see how long that lasts. In Dec. 2022, protesters organized outside the campus of Rock Church, calling on the church to remove Blanchard as pastor or for Blanchard to willingly step down.