March 20, 2007
Pat Robertson’s reality-distortion field meets the judicial system:
A lawsuit nearing trial has opened a rare window into the inner workings of Pat Robertson’s Virginia Beach-based media empire.
At the heart of the case is an issue that has bedeviled Robertson repeatedly over the years: the fuzzy line between his tax-exempt operations and his profit-making ventures.
The lawsuit accuses Rob-
ertson of abusing his tax-
exempt status by using the resources of his nonprofit TV ministry to promote a commercial product—a high-protein diet shake.
Nonsense, the televangel-
ist has responded: The shake was a totally sep-
arate venture, not related in any way to his Christian Broadcasting Network.
Now a trail of e-mails and other internal correspondence, dating back more than a year before the lawsuit, indicates that Robertson and other CBN executives were closely involved in the development of the shake venture.
In one letter addressed to nutrition-store managers, the broadcaster referred to the “built-in demand” he had generated for the shake and pledged to keep hawking it on his daily TV show, “The 700 Club.”
… John Colombo, an expert on tax-exempt organizations at the University of Illinois College of Law, said the case raises questions about tax-law compliance.
“It seems to me that arguably, CBN was inappropriately conferring benefits on Pat Robertson as a result of giving him free advertising and free exposure for his product,” Colombo said. “If they’re giving away stuff to Pat Robertson that they shouldn’t be giving away, then that’s a problem.”
… Robertson began promoting his “age-defying” diet shake on “The 700 Club” in 2001, offering to send the recipe free to any viewer who asked for it. He says more than 1.5 million people have requested the long list of ingredients, which includes such items as safflower oil, protein powder and vinegar.
One of those people was Phillip Busch, a Texas bodybuilder. Busch contacted CBN in the spring of 2005 with astounding news: He had lost nearly 200 pounds drinking the shake.
Robertson showed Busch’s dramatic before-and-after photos on “The 700 Club,” and they were incorporated into a TV spot that was aired on the show 20 times over the next few weeks. In July, CBN flew Busch to Virginia Beach for a live “700 Club” interview with Robertson.
Meanwhile, Busch says, he discovered that Robertson’s shake had been turned into a commercial product—a ready-to-mix powder in a can—and was being sold by General Nutrition Corp., a Pittsburgh-based health-food chain.
Busch sued Robertson, CBN, GNC and several related entities, claiming the broadcaster used his image for a commercial purpose without compensating him.
Pat’s shakes may be “age-defying,” but they don’t seem to help with dementia:
A central allegation in the case is that Robertson and CBN conspired to promote the commercial shake using CBN’s tax-exempt resources in violation of federal tax law—in other words, that they built a market for the product on airtime paid for by CBN donors and then cashed in on it.
… They are “two very discrete ventures,” Louis Isakoff, a CBN attorney, told The Virginian-Pilot just after the lawsuit was filed.
… Robertson himself, in a sworn deposition last month, addressed the issue squarely: “I want to say, categorically, that CBN had no relation with GNC whatsoever.”
… But e-mails and other correspondence that have become part of the court record suggest an intertwining of the two dating to March 2004.
That’s when Dave Hawk, a Pittsburgh bodybuilder who identified himself as new projects director for GNC and soy producer The Solae Co., e-mailed CBN asking to speak with a Robertson associate.
Robertson’s assistant, G.G. Conklin, forwarded the e-mail to attorney Isakoff with the comment: “I’m wondering if he’s interested in packaging Pat’s Age-Defying Shake? That would be interesting.”
Isakoff responded: “I think we should follow up on this. GNC is big.”
… By December, a contract had been drafted.
“I think we are very close on the contract and I just need Pat’s approval,” Isakoff wrote Hawk. “He is exceptionally excited about this, and ready to move forward. Let’s Go!”
And so on and on and on. The case goes to trial in April.
GNC later dropped the product. But Robertson’s Web site still touts its, uh, miraculous benefits, and Pat continues to claim that it helps him leg-press 2,000 pounds. If true—
LOL—this would mean that:
… a 76-year-old man [would have broken] the all-time Florida State University leg press record by 665 pounds over Dan Kendra. 665 pounds. Further, when he set the record, they had to modify the leg press machine to fit 1,335 pounds. Plus, Kendra’s capillaries in his eyes burst. Burst.
Perhaps Pastor Pat has a miracle cure for that.
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