Reverend Fix-It

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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.

"They made people think I must have taken money," Wilkerson says. "Well, when the audit was turned out they found out I donated cash to the school up there. I put in over $100,000 and never took a salary. That was never reported either, but it's in the audit."

Shortly after the allegations surfaced, Wilkerson suffered what his son described as a heart attack. Wilkerson was on his way to Texas for surgery.

Mike and Marsha Williams know that operating a private school is not easy. They founded Liberty Christian High in Northeast Dallas in 1996 for their two children and to provide another high school option for the Lake Highlands area. After four years, the school had about 110 students and about 20 teachers and staff. The Smithsonian Institute recognized the school for both its innovation and technology-based curriculum, Mike Williams says.

"The school was doing well. It was a technology-oriented school. We were pleased with the education the kids were getting. It was very positive. The problem was financial. We needed a supporting institution like a church or needed an elementary school to attach to it to spread administration to a larger base of students."

Liberty was operating in the red and had about $150,000 in bills. In addition to the value of the existing teacher structure and student body, it possessed assets of about $500,000, Williams says. Wilkerson had arrived in Dallas, purchased the church and school at Eastlake and posted school information on the Internet. From Eastlake's Web site, Liberty administrators saw that Wilkerson wanted to expand his school into the upper grade levels in the fall of 2000, Williams says.

It seemed like a good match and a good way to allow Liberty's students to stay together and keep their fledgling school alive, he says. Besides, when they met Wilkerson, he portrayed himself as having the kind of deep financial pockets that could support the ups and downs of a small private school's finances, Williams says.

"He did say to us that he had just made $17.5 million off the sale of hotels, a set of hotels that he owned," Williams says.

"He said he had paid $1.7 million for that building [Eastlake], paid cash. We were later to find out that he had not paid them cash; he had given them a promissory note and that he had pledged some stock." Wilkerson denies that he ever said he planned to pay for Eastlake with cash, but in the fall of 2000, he was counting on an influx of cash from the sale of hotels to a Dallas businessman. He said his children's company acquired seven hotels, which were sold to a Dallas businessman.

"He and his partners and all of his companies guaranteed me $1.6 million by September. He bought our hotels," Wilkerson says. "When I bought the church, I had a million six hundred thousand coming, and we had a million dollars in the bank, the whole family did."

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Charles Siderius
Contact: Charles Siderius