Longform

Reverend Fix-It

Page 3 of 8

The city donated the high school property to the project, and Wilkerson offered his visions and talents as administrator.

Just five months later, the same newspaper, a weekly newsmagazine in Shreveport, reported that Wilkerson and members of his family who had worked at the university had left, leaving behind questions, frustrations and a pile of debt. Enrollment was not close to the 400 students Wilkerson promised. Wilkerson says he left to become the pastor of a church in nearby Church Point. The school subsequently went bankrupt and closed with nearly $600,000 in debt. Sunset sued the school to get back its high school property.

"When I left Sunset there were no bills left unpaid," Wilkerson says.

David Prell, who took over as interim president after Wilkerson left, does not agree with that statement or with Wilkerson's version of events concerning Louisiana Christian University at Sunset. Prell says Wilkerson exaggerated enrollment and left Louisiana Christian University when an application for accreditation that included verification of academic credentials by a recognized agency was being processed.

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."

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.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Charles Siderius
Contact: Charles Siderius