Reverend Fix-It

Itinerant minister Charles Wilkerson promised to restore two ailing Christian schools to financial health. So why did the patients take a turn for the worse?

As for remaining debts, Prell says the school had $686,000 in unpaid debts when the Wilkersons departed.

At Church Point, Wilkerson opened Faith Baptist College at the church where he served as pastor. Wilkerson describes it as a "correspondence" college. It was never accredited or recognized by any state or mainstream educational association. He also opened Gulf Coast College at the church, which was supposed to offer classroom instruction.

In 1996, he moved Gulf Coast to Plaquemine, Louisiana. There, he had plans to house Korean students in a hotel that was bought by Golden Opportunity Development Corp. The Greater Baton Rouge Business Report identified Wilkerson as president of Golden Opportunity, and Wilkerson was quoted as saying, "We are going to bring everything up to a quality property."

This building, where Eastlake Christian School and Daycare operates, will be sold and the 20-year-old school moved in an effort to pay big debts, says Charles Wilkerson, school pastor.
Mark Graham
This building, where Eastlake Christian School and Daycare operates, will be sold and the 20-year-old school moved in an effort to pay big debts, says Charles Wilkerson, school pastor.
Charles Wilkerson said Louisiana Christian University would be a big financial boost for the little town of Sunset, Louisiana. He said he left no debts, but others said the school was more than $600,000 in the hole by the time he moved on.
Charles Wilkerson said Louisiana Christian University would be a big financial boost for the little town of Sunset, Louisiana. He said he left no debts, but others said the school was more than $600,000 in the hole by the time he moved on.

Bobby Adams, business manager and son-in-law of the hotel's old owners, says of Wilkerson, "The man presented himself as a Baptist minister, and he was going to increase the size of his school in the hotel for Korean students. He was an extremely nice man, very personal, very fatherly figure."

Golden Opportunity paid $1.9 million for the hotel and transferred to the owners 75,000 shares of stock in an energy company. Adams identified Wilkerson as a "partner" in Golden Opportunity. Wilkerson says he may have helped negotiate the purchase of the hotel, but he denies any association with Golden Opportunity other than banking on the fact that they would remodel the property for his college.

"I didn't own it, didn't have anything to do with it," he says of Golden Opportunity and the hotel. "I said I need a place to put my Korean students. They [Golden Opportunity] were the ones that owned Golden Opportunity. I guess that was the name of it. I didn't even know what the name of it was."

According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, however, Charles Wilkerson resigned as president and director of Golden Opportunity Development Corp. in April 1998, which would have been after he left Plaquemine. Wilkerson says he may have been listed as a director for purposes of incorporation, but that's all.

Wilkerson says the hotel in Plaquemine did not work out for Gulf Coast College because Golden Opportunity failed to remodel the property as promised and because the college was too much work for him.

"They didn't fix up the hotel. It wasn't just that; I couldn't run it by myself," he says. "I mean, it was in Plaquemine, Louisiana, I was pastoring in Church Point, Louisiana...I had a sinus attack, sinus arrest. I was by myself working about 20 hours a day."

The hotel has changed hands again since then and will probably be demolished, Adams says.

Not long after arriving in Plaquemine, Wilkerson and the crew were on the move again, taking the handful of students from Gulf Coast to the legitimate and more than 40-year-old California Christian College in Fresno, where he was employed from July 1997 to April 1998 as a basketball coach.

"As I've told the people before, Gulf Coast merged with California Christian," Wilkerson says. "California Christian is still going strong."

A spokeswoman at California Christian College agrees Wilkerson worked there but says there was no "merger" and that they have no student records from Gulf Coast.

Wilkerson was on to Wisconsin next. Once again, things would go wrong, but this time the authorities would get involved.

In the spring of 1998, Wilkerson arrived in Madison to become chancellor of what was then Madison Business College, a school that had been operating since 1856. Wilkerson also transferred similar stock to the school's owners. Four months after he arrived, the school closed after an ambitious effort to move the school, turn it into a four-year college and create a new college football team nicknamed "The Storm."

While no one claims the school was in good financial condition when he arrived, the end came just after the Wisconsin State Journal reported that one of Wilkerson's corporations owned the hotel where the school's new football players were being housed. The newspaper also reported Wilkerson's school dealings in Louisiana and a Wisconsin Justice Department investigation into complaints of "undelivered promises regarding financial aid and scholarships" for players. Wilkerson says the hotel was never paid for the rooms, contrary to what college officials said, and that he was cleared of even any suggestion of wrongdoing. Wilkerson says the hotel was given back to its owners.

Madison College officials told the newspaper that Wilkerson held doctoral degrees from Faith Baptist Bible College (not Louisiana Christian as he reported to state officials three years before) and that his wife, Katherine, now held a master's degree from Faith Baptist College.

Investigations produced no charges, according to the Wisconsin Attorney General's Office, and Wilkerson blamed the media for the demise of the college. He says the primary reason the Wisconsin media latched onto him was because the school had a legal right to choose not to hire "teachers that had different lifestyles from what we wanted our teachers to have." (Wilkerson would not say what he means by "different lifestyles.") After the school closed, the newspapers never reported the fact that he was exonerated, he says.

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