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Ex-Worker Accusing TBN Pastor Says He Had Sex to Keep His Job

Ford believes a 1998 confidentiality deal has been broken. TBN officials deny claims.

September 22, 2004|William Lobdell | Times Staff Writer

A former Trinity Broadcasting Network employee who was paid $425,000 to keep quiet about his claims of a homosexual tryst with televangelist Paul Crouch has disclosed details of his complaint, saying that he had felt forced to engage in the alleged sexual acts to keep his job.

Enoch Lonnie Ford, 41, said he was going public with his story because he believes TBN officials breached a confidentiality agreement that was part of a 1998 settlement that provided the payment to him. Network officials broke the agreement, he contends, by issuing a statement last week responding to a news account of the ministry's legal effort to silence him. TBN's statement described the circumstances of the settlement and highlighted Ford's criminal background.

Crouch, 70, is president and popular on-air personality of Orange County-based TBN, the world's largest religious broadcaster.

Ministry officials have flatly denied Ford's allegations, which are detailed in an unpublished memoir that is now sealed in court files by a judge's order.

"I'll take a lie-detector test on national TV," Ford said in a telephone interview Monday. "Paul Crouch needs to be exposed, and the truth needs to get out."

Ministry attorneys went to Orange County Superior Court on Tuesday in an unsuccessful attempt to stop publication of this story, claiming that a Times reporter "aided and abetted" Ford in violating an April 2003 court order that barred him from discussing his allegations. Judge John M. Watson declined to issue a restraining order against The Times but suggested Ford could later face a contempt-of-court hearing.

TBN issued the news release that angered Ford after a Sept. 12 article in The Times reported that the nonprofit organization has waged a legal battle to keep the alleged 1996 sexual encounter secret. TBN said the statement didn't break the confidentiality agreement because it only responded to issues raised by the article.

In their statement, ministry officials said Ford was reviving his allegations, despite the 1998 settlement, to extract more money from Crouch. They also detailed Ford's felony convictions in the 1990s for drug possession and engaging in sex with a 17-year-old boy.

Ford responded angrily to the ministry's statement. "There were times that I didn't make the right decisions," he said. "This is all true. But this man is using my mistakes to get away with this."

Ford, a mortgage salesman who lives in Lake Forest, was hired in 1992 to work in TBN's telephone bank in Orange County. Crouch took an interest in him and within four years, Ford said, he was doing special assignments for the pastor.

One such job, he said, was to drive Crouch to Hollywood and take publicity photos for TBN at a Christian nightclub. Ford said he and others in the ministry were surprised at the assignment because he wasn't a photographer.

"They had to show me -- and I'm not kidding -- how to work a camera," Ford said, adding that Crouch told him not to worry about it.

After visiting the nightclub, Ford said Crouch took him to dinner at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills.

Shortly after that, in October 1996, Ford said he and Crouch spent two nights at the same hotel in separate rooms. During that time, Ford said they worked out together at the hotel gym and ate expensive meals with bottles of wine and after-dinner drinks. "I knew what he was doing," Ford said. "He was seducing me."

After checking out of the hotel, Ford said, Crouch took him to a TBN-owned cabin near Lake Arrowhead. It was there, Ford said, that Crouch first had sex with him. "I did it because I didn't know if this man is going to throw me straight out of that cabin," Ford said. "And I didn't want to lose my job. I was going to be in trouble if I said no."

The next morning, Ford said, Crouch read a Bible passage to him in an attempt to reassure him about the night before. The passage, Proverbs 6:16-19, details seven "detestable" attitudes and acts in God's eyes.

Ford said Crouch told him that because homosexuality wasn't listed, the Lord wasn't worried about what they had done. Still, Ford said, Crouch warned him to keep the encounter quiet "because people wouldn't understand."

Ford said Crouch told him the ministry would pay his debts -- about $17,000 -- and offered a rent-free apartment at TBN's Tustin studios.

Ford said he believed Crouch was trying to pay him off.

Ford, an openly gay man, said he was sickened by the sexual relationship he alleges occurred with his boss. "But at the same time, I still looked up to him," Ford said. "He's a very powerful man of the largest Christian network in the world. I just put my blinders on."

Ministry officials confirmed that TBN paid at least some of Ford's debts around that time. They said it was an act of Christian charity that TBN performs regularly for employees.

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