Bob Larson: Looking Out For Number One

by Kenneth L. Smith

In my previous CPR articles concerning Bob Larson, I have focused on his financial affairs, and his inability to deal with honest scrutiny. But the most intriguing part of the Bob Larson story is how his vision of himself has molded the ministry which bears his name.

As you might expect, Larson is not that eager to make BLM's deepest, darkest secrets available to us, but his generous employees have been more than able to fill in most of the gaps. In recent weeks, signifi cant new sources of information have come forward, and fresh caches of internal Ministry memos have surfaced. And now, the picture of every day life behind the walls of Larson's third-floor fortress seems clear enough that the story can be told. It is a most disturbing tale -- of a world of smoke, mirrors, and startling contradictions.

Secrets of Freemasonry Revealed:

Two o'clock. The music rolls, and Bob Larson leans into the microphone:

      "Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Henry Lee Lucas, and Charles Man
    son.  Kids will soon be bartering these serial killers on 
    trading cards thanks to a California company that's recently 
    introduced the series.  In addition to horror films and violent
    books, the media have taken one more step contributing to ado
    lescents' evil addictions."1

To the casual listener, Larson seems urbane, eloquent, and possessed of an astounding memory. His many impassioned pleas are straight from the heart -- and totally off-the-cuff. His command of Scripture is as fine as his control of the callers. But on Talk-Back, nothing is left to chance. Even when Bob Larson talks about Bob Larson, he is reading from a script. This Larson speech' came from the pen of staffer Mary Kilgannon:

      "I've been threatened by a bullet in the brain.  I've also
    been warned that I may be offered as a satanic sacrifice.  For
    weeks, I've been told by death metal rockers and sinister
    Satanists that I'm to die today.  But I'm still alive and in
    God's service...."2

That Larson should read his opening lines is hardly surprising. But the extent to which Talk-Back is scripted, pre-packaged, and painstak ingly orchestrated is remarkable. His openings, monologues, and wrap- ups are totally canned; he even reads the phone numbers.3 And, as the following snippets from an internal Ministry memo written by Kilgannon (initialed by her and substitute host Bonnie Bell) suggest, everything from what Bob says between callers to why he says it is menu-driven':

   "TOPIC:  BOB BATTLES BACK

    DATE:   FRI 8-28-92

    SLANT:  Your donors let you down earlier in the week.  Then,
            they abandoned Bonnie while you were called by God to
            write your sequel.  Instead of supporting your efforts
            to help the abused, donors have financially and spiri
            tually abused you and this ministry....

                       WHY I'M DOING THIS SHOW:

    *I had to take time out of my hectic schedule to rescue' 
    yesterday's show.  Members of my staff called in a panic because
    you didn't support this ministry.  I'm called by the Lord to
    write the sequel to Dead Air, and I couldn't count on you....

                               BULLETS:

    *I don't like having my private time writing this book with the
    Lord to be interrupted.  But you force that on me....

    *I've got one day left to save stations. Yesterday's show could
    mean the loss of major stations.

    *If you believe in the mission of this ministry, it's time you
    supported it."4

In essence, Larson is like a network anchorman. Even his knowledge of Scripture is prompted -- for instance, in the "Gay Power" episode, a Larson employee provided him with a list of Bible verses addressing homosexuality.5

The only actual variable is the callers, and every effort is made to control them as much as possible. A prospective caller must first run the gauntlet of Larson's call-screeners -- who, for the most part, are instructed to give him the kind of callers that he wants. If he wants to have an argument, they screen out his supporters. If Bob gets into trouble, and the show is going poorly, a stream of "Bob-backers" mira culously appears. And the final few minutes of the show generally are reserved for those who would praise him.

When the screener decides that a caller is to appear on the program, the office machinery goes into action. If he or she has been on Talk- Back before, the screener performs a background check. Vital statis tics (e.g., age, sex, caller's location) are flashed on Bob's screen, and, if an earlier call was particularly poignant, the tape is pulled from Ministry archives and given to him. And he always "just happens" to have it in the studio....

More than a year ago, Westword reported that Larson actively courted "exhorters": Christians who would appear on his broadcasts, on cue, to sing his praises.6 Other sources close to Larson have confirmed that charge; former BLM vice-president Lori Boespflug went so far as to say that then-Compassion Connection director Margo Hamilton would "call up her kids" and prompt them into giving on-air testimony.7 And now, an internal memo further fans those flames:

   "TO:     BOB
    CC:     TAMMY, CC STAFF, DEANN
    FROM:   MARGO
    DATE:   7/10/92
    SUBJ:   TODAY'S SHOW, HOPE LINE STORIES

4) HOPE LINE STORIES: * Due to the sensitive issue of exploitation of HOPE line callers who wish to remain anonymous I want the referral operators to ask HOPE line callers who are enthused about the help the [sic] received to give us a number to call them during the show and speak directly to you about the help they've received."8

To the casual observer, the sudden appearance of these formerly dis tressed callers seems too remarkable to be the result of naked chance. It would appear that divine intervention can be ruled out, as well.

The Prophet Motive:

Talk-Back is not a ministry; it is a business. And Bob Larson runs it like one. His obsession with the bottom line is painfully clear in this snippet from a June, 1992 memo:

    "The following is Bob Larson's analysis of reports compiled by
    Debbi and memos prepared by her and Bonnie covering: year end
    reports 1991; month end stats; large donor analyses....

    YEAR END OVER THE AIR ANALYSIS
    1. Accounted for 52% of revenue in 1991 and 1990 and 51% 1989.
       CONCLUSION: Half of revenue is raised at "point of sale" by
       impulse response by emotional live appeals.

    2. Success if a combination of campaign themes, premiums and
       good caller." [sic]9
Larson's call screeners are forced to balance his need to have "good caller" and an honest desire to offer help to those which ask for it. And sometimes, the callers' interests lose. In World's January, 1993 expose, former Ministry employee Tammy Brown created a firestorm when she charged:
    "Bob would put [callers] on hold and we would have to manipulate
     them, push them over the edge so they could go back on the
     air with Talk-Back and be 'saved by Bob Larson' ...
     We had to push until they said,' Okay, I need God.'"10

Sound ministry doesn't always make for riveting drama. But money is the name of Bob Larson's game -- you have to grip the audience to grab hold of their checkbooks. And in the cold, hard world of radio minis try, there is bound to be a certain amount of human carnage. The fol lowing is from a 1992 letter to Bob from a Washington therapist:

     "One client recently wrote to you [name withheld] ... She also
    worked up her courage to phone you last week.  What she had
    hoped for was encouragement and prayer from you and your Hope
    Line.  What she received was something quite different.  After
    briefly talking to you on the air, she was passed on to a woman
    on the other line.  This woman told her that you believed she
    was multiple.  She then began asking [name] questions about her
    abuse.  Had she been involved in group sex?  Sex with animals?
    Had her father ever dressed her in white? ...and more.  [Name]
    answered no to these, and she then asked if she could produce
    an alter who knew about these things.  [Name]'s system does not
    'operate on command' so she answered No. The woman said she
    would then put her on hold, and when she came back on the line
    she wanted to talk to an alter.  When she returned, and no
    alter has appeared, she basically said we can't help you, and
    hung up.  [Name] called several more times, wanting prayer, and
    perhaps someone who would validate and affirm her....  When she
    told her name, she was actually hung up on."11

Judging by this excerpt (from an anonymous letter to the editor of the Colorado Christian News), the Washington woman's story is not at all unique:

     "I have been a caller on TALK-BACK on more than one occasion.
    On each of these occasions, after placing me with the referral
    operator, Bob would begin pleading with the audience for a
    'thousand dollar champion' or a five hundred dollar hero'
    [sic] in order to help me.

Although Bob told his audience that he needed the money to help me, he in fact did nothing of the sort. He would not accept my calls nor would he answer my mail. At one point, one of his staff promised a therapy program, saying they had in fact called for counseling in reference to me and it was a matter of my waiting. When the wait became too long, I decided to check it out myself. They said they had no idea what I was talking about. BLM had never contacted them."12

Still, in the midst of all this misery, some ministry does in fact get done. Unfortunately, the bulk of it is done by the Compassion Connec tion affiliates. All BLM does is make referrals, from what is nothing more than a computerized telephone directory.

At one point, Compassion Connection was a more noble endeavor. But in an apparent response to Larson's divorce, Salem Broadcasting presi dent Ed Atsinger cancelled the show on several crucial stations. That derailed Bob's gravy train; as a reaction, he decided to make drastic cuts in program services:

    TO:      BOB
    CC:      ANGELO
    FROM:    MARGO
    DATE:    11/26/91
    SUBJ:    CC CUTBACKS

    ===============================================================
    THE FOLLOWING ARE IMMEDIATE CUTBACKS WE CAN IMPLEMENT INTO COM
    PASSION CONNECTION TO COMPENSATE THE LOSE OF THE SALEM STATIONS
    [sic]

    1)  HOPE LINE HOURS: Immediate cutback of Saturday hours.
        We should let Randy know ASAP.... [approved by BL]

    8)  CC INTERVENTION: We have promised Eric we would fly him to
        San Diego [they eventually paid $165 for a bus ticket13]
        and Amy is coming closer to a decision about moving to
        Albuquerque.  I propose we support them in their moves, but
        put an immediate freeze on other crisis intervention finan
        cially supported by the ministry and rely solely on the
        database and the Friendship connection until we can resume
        ministry intervention [approved by BL]."14

Of course, the desperate financial climate would not deter Bob from funding projects essential to the Ministry's mission ... like instal lation of a broadcast studio in his mountainside mansion, only minutes from his Lakewood office.15

I Love Myself...:

It seems that almost every aspect of Bob Larson Ministries is bathed in a torrent of hypocrisy. This spiritual heir of Billy Sol Hargis is constantly trapped between the demands of his public persona' and his compulsive need to be important. And as such, the simple act of telling the truth -- one most of us find to be second-nature -- becomes an overwhelming task.

On his Jan. 29, 1993 broadcast, Larson claimed that he "always flies coach,"16 unless he earns frequent flier upgrades. And again, inter nal BLM documents cast grave aspersions upon that claim. A memo dated Nov. 10, 1992 listed Bob's itinerary for an Apr. 2, 1993 appearance in Columbus, Ohio, indicating that he would be sitting in seat 4C (first class) on both legs of that trip, and the air fare would be $728.17 Likewise, his October, 1992 trip to Cleveland cost the Ministry $855, and again, he was sitting in the first cabin.18 But even for Bob Larson, there are limits: on a recent trip to Vancouver, he actually DID fly coach.

On George Orwell's fictional Animal Farm, all animals were equal ... but some were more equal than others. It seems that, on a recent trip to Scottsdale, Bob Larson wouldn't suffer the indignity of having to stay in the stables with the hired help. While Larson employees Linda Brown and Bonnie Bell doubled up in a modest $105 room at the Red Lion Inn, Bob Larson (using Dane Roberts, one of his pseudonyms) was enjoy ing life in a $215/night room at the nearby Marriott.19 And for Lar son, that almost qualifies as slumming it' -- according to Lori Boes- pflug, Bob prefers to stay at the Phoenician, where high-season rates for a room with a view exceed $300.(20) His computerized address book contains phone numbers for such humble abodes as the Ritz-Carlton Lag una Niguel, The Beverly Hills Hilton, and the Hyatt Regency San Fran cisco.21 Granted, he's not the Donald, but it is fair to say that he travels well.

Former Larson confidants have told me that he is so completely self- absorbed that he even keeps an 8" X 10" glossy picture of himself on his desk! [If you saw his cameo appearance in the recent HBO special on Satanism, you might have noticed it in the right-hand side of the screen.22 One can just picture the inscription: "To Bob Larson -- All my love. Bob Larson."] And, at a Mark Russell concert, this balding man of nearly fifty bounded on-stage with an almost childlike glee ... to have his picture taken with the patron saint of political satire.23

As Christianity Today reported, and former employees have confirmed, Larson is a perfectionist.24 Perfectionists do have a penchant for dwelling on the negative, and, for all his accomplishments, Larson has borne his share of failures. Like David Koresh, he never quite made it as a rock star. He dropped out of college, failed in his marriage, couldn't really cut it as a legitimate novelist. Even the one thing insiders insist he has wanted more than anything else -- a son -- has been denied him. After almost a decade of psychotherapy,25 and almost thirty years "in the Lord's work," inner peace has been denied him.

As an anonymous BLM employee observed in a letter to Salem Broadcasting president Ed Atsinger:

      "It's also known that Mr. Larson is a psychotic person who
    doesn't really like himself and needs the constant cajoling of
    others such as his psychologist [presumably, his psychotherap
    ist, Dr. Kenneth Mesplay26] of many years and one or two close
    employees who he uses until something better comes along.  He
    leaves them betrayed and dismayed at the meaning behind the man
    and his ministry...."27

Bob Larson is a man lashing out in pain. And, like the wounded bear in the cave, he will attack anything which comes his way. He has lost the capacity to help others, for he can no longer even help himself.

Jailhouse Rock?:

Bob Larson is a statistician's nightmare. He hurls figures like the young Nolan Ryan threw fastballs: at least 100 miles per hour, and not all that accurately. In his January 4, 1991 appeal letter to donors, he lamented that, "With our air time costs more than double what they were two years ago, our income is actually less than it was then."28 And in his February 4 follow-up, he wrote:

      "Now, I'm faced with the most critical decision since TALK-
       BACK first went on the air!

       What do I do with a $213,000 deficit last year?

       Will I have to cut back 1 or 2 days of TALK-BACK?"29

Taken together, the letters paint a picture of a ministry in serious financial distress. Yet, in reality, Bob Larson Ministries was in the veritable flower of fiscal health. Ministry tax returns revealed that revenues for 1990 had actually increased by more than $1.5 million, as compared to 1988.30 The Ministry's Stewardship Report showed a profit of more than $500,00031; the deficit reported in February was nowhere to be found. Similarly, the tax return revealed cash reserves of more than $1.5 million ... after making an unscheduled $1 million principal payment on the building it owns.32

Still, Larson's cries of poverty continued. In his December 2, 1991 fundraiser, he told donors that, "Because our finances are so low, I'm sorry I can't make any offers available."33 He repeated that claim in a February, 1992 appeal letter,34 despite the fact that the Ministry's annual audit was completed the day beforehand, and its' audited finan cial statements showed a $246,000 profit for the year.35

That Bob Larson made these misrepresentations consciously and delib erately is beyond question. Each show is rated for its financial pro ductivity, and Ministry accountants generate a dizzying array of donor statistics. Pledges are categorized by day, week, donor, and station; full histories are kept on stations, donors, and appeal letters. Even the daily deposits were compared to previous year figures. And every thing that has anything to do with Ministry finances is routed to Bob.

A certain measure of exaggeration is tolerated -- and to some degree expected -- in the typical fundraising letter. Yet, there are limits; Bob Larson's fundraising regime appears to have crossed into the realm of outright mail fraud.

In one of those indecipherable 175-word sentences for which our fed eral government is rightly famed, 18 U.S.C. =1341 sets out the offense in excruciating detail:

        "Whoever, having devised or intending to devise any scheme
       or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property
       by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations,
       or promises ... for the purpose of executing such scheme or
       artifice or attempting to do so, places in any post office
       or authorized depository for mail matter...."36

Roughly translated, any fundraising scheme which uses the U.S. mail, and is reasonably calculated to deceive persons of ordinary prudence and comprehension constitutes federal mail fraud. It is not necessary to prove that a fact was misrepresented, or a donor, misled. Rather, all that needs to be shown is the intent to deceive' -- which may be inferred by the modus operandi of a scheme -- and the use of the U.S. mails in furtherance of that intent.37

That Bob Larson used the U.S. mail is beyond question; that he knew that the Ministry was in far better financial condition than he repre sented in his appeal letters appears equally clear. In fact, his own fundraising analysis, conducted in June of 1992, clearly suggests that his literary wails of financial desperation' in the December 1991 and February 1992 appeal letters were part of a curious experiment:

                     GENERAL FACTS AND INFORMATION
    6.  Not using premiums doesn't hurt letters and helps profit.

    7.  Unique enclosures help response considerably.

    QUARTERLY APPEAL LETTER ANALYSIS
    1.  Not offering premiums doesn't affect giving.

    2.  Special enclosures (e.g. Deicide artwork, Sharon's poem)
        helps response."38

At any rate, Larson's immaculate deception appears to have been suc cessful. Thus we are left with the question of whether the scheme was reasonably calculated to deceive. One of the more persuasive ways of proving that prudent individuals were likely to be deceived is to demon strate that one had been deceived. The pertinent excerpts from a let ter to Compassion Connection director Margo Hamilton, from California attorney Michael Harvey, dated Dec. 12, 1991, speak for themselves:

   "RE: WHITE CITY OREGON SATANIC RITUAL ABUSE CASE

    Dear Margo and Bob:

    This is some kind of battle, isn't it?  The financial 
    constraints and losses occurring at your ministry....

    I just need transportation costs and an Oregon associate attor
    ney's costs, at this time, to go after these Satanists.  I know
    you folks are in a major financial bind...."39

Like many others who came to Bob Larson Ministries with hat in hand, Harvey "didn't receive a dime,"40 but that is beside the point. As an attorney, Harvey presumably qualifies as a person of ordinary prudence and comprehension; the letter clearly shows that he believed that Bob Larson Ministries was in woeful financial condition. And if a man of his caliber was fooled ... then, heaven help the little old lady from Dubuque.

The Making of a Best-Selling Author:

Behind the microphone, Bob Larson triumphantly proclaims that he is the author of twenty-two books, including an encyclopedic reference on cults, Larson's New Book of Cults. But as is often the case with Lar son, reality just doesn't quite measure up to his press releases. As the following couple of internal memos suggests, it would be stretch ing the truth for him to even call himself an editor:

   "DEADLINE TO PUBLISHER: APRIL 1, 1989

    Tim's Role: Check for theological accuracy in ERRORS, APPEAL,
    and PURPOSE sections.  Watch his timing.  Can't take too long.
    He'll have to assume that factually, we're correct....

    PROCEDURES

    1.  Outline/Scripts
    2.  Writing (MO will assign)
    3.  Internal editing -- MO
    4.  Review -- TP = watch turn-around time
    5.  Corrections -- MO
    6.  BL
    7.  Corrections/Remove footnotes -- MO
    8.  Publisher"41
                        _______________________

    CHAPTERS WRITTEN BY MS, PE, MO
                                                       DATE
      CHAPTER                          AUTHOR          FINISHED
      Charles Manson                     MS            2-16-89
      Free Masonry                       MS            2-22-89
      Crowleyism (beef up)               MS            2-27-89

      Life Training                      PE            2-22-89
      Findhorn                           PE            2-24-89"42

Bob Larson is noticeable only by his absence from the project. Min istry staffers Mary Stone (now, Kilgannon), Paula Ehresman, Pat Dunn, and Muriel Olson, along with freelance writer Kari Martin, wrote chap ters based on old Talk-Back scripts (again written by staffers). Once Olson edited them, they were submitted to Tim Philibosian for theolog ical review. Larson only gave their final product a quick once-over.

The writing of a book is a laborious task, and, like many celebrity authors', Bob Larson's "hectic schedule" simply doesn't permit him the time to invest in such drudgery. After all, skiing, golfing, jogging, mountain-climbing, and sporadic Bible studies demand major commitments of time and energy ... and, let us not forget that he has a young wife to attend to, and a multi-million dollar ministry to run. As the following memo indicates, he can't even be bothered with the mundane task of coming up with the ideas for "his" books:

   "TO:     BOB
    FROM:   BONNIE
    RE:     DAILY ITEMS
    DATE:   7/20/92
    CC:     MARGO, ANGELO, PAM
                              __________

    9. TYNDALE BOOK SUGGESTIONS -- SIMPLY RESENDING SINCE I HAVEN'T
    HEARD FROM YOU YET.

    Per your instructions we met and discussed possible topics for
    a Tyndale book.  Our favorite centers around Exorcism/Demons.
    This is the stuff your audience wants to hear from you about.
    We suggest the following:

        A.  Draw from your past experiences in Haiti
        B.  Adrian, Shirley, and other stories you have shared
        with us when you were on the road....

    As a side note we also came up with and idea of a book on
    blood.  Kind of "The Blood of Christ vs. the blood of Satan."
    You could discuss how Satan has misrepresented the "Blood" and
    made a sacrilege of it.  You could also cover:

        A.  Vampirism
        B.  Self-mutilation
        C.  Animal Sacrifice
        D.  Blood rituals
        E.  Menstrual fascination."43

Against this curious backdrop, one wouldn't have anticipated him to have even tried to write a novel. Yet, try it he did; unfortunately, as the following excerpts from one of the earliest drafts of Dead Air (then, entitled "Underground") shows, the flesh may have been willing, but the talent was weak:

     "The words of a small child may ring with more clarity and
    truth than the uncertain cacophony of many adult voices if we
    listen with our hearts. Wes Bryant should have known that years ago.
    Unfortunately, like many of us, he learned to hear what he
    wanted to hear. Only those utterances which enforced his pre
    judices or enhanced his predilections were heeded.  Anything
    confronting his selfish ego or threatening his comfort zone in
    life was ignored.  Wes thought he had life all figured out, or
    at least reduced to workable options.  Until the day a child's
    voice softly shattered his insulated little world of unrequited
    dreams and compromised convictions."

Can I talk to Mr. Wes?'

Sure honey. How old are you and what's your name?'

Jennifer. I'm nine.'

What do you want to say to Mr. Bryant?'

Well, it's kind of personal. I thought if I dialed this num
    ber I could talk to Mr. Wes'."44

Rough drafts are precisely that; a certain measure of coarseness can be expected. But some of the passages were sheer literary atrocities:

     "The sight of the Windy City was blowing her way an ill zephyr
    of sobering truth no disbelief could escape....

     Manley Harris cocked his head sideways in a gesture that half
    wanted to pursue the subject further and press Wes about what
    he knew and half resigning himself to respecting the obvious
    sincerity of Wes's refusal to say what he might be able to 
    reveal that would confirm his concerns."45

As the months wore on, it became increasingly apparent that Larson's dreams of literary stardom were precisely that. Yet, where there is a will -- and, a staff of forty -- there is a way.

A procession of Larson staffers were commissioned to work on his new endeavor, including Olson, Boespflug, and the current Mrs. Bob Larson, Laura Anderson. For instance, in an Aug. 18, 1992 memo to Bob, writ ten by International Broadcasting Network director Pam Koczman, it was acknowledged that "Laura A.'s time with the book is 50% and more until Dec."46

As Lori Boespflug, World's star whistle-blower, confided to me many months ago, "Bob Larson can't write by himself."47 Muriel Olson, a former BLM copy editor with a lifetime of editing experience, seconded Boespflug's thought in a lawsuit, claiming that Larson was "an inadequate writer."48 And while Larson may, in some circles, be compared with Larry King, no one will ever mistake him for Stephen King.

And Bob Larson knows it.

It is not so much the fact that Larson does not, in any meaningful sense of the word, "write" his books which raises eyebrows; rather, it is the reckless abandon with which he uses sacrificially-given Minis try resources to subsidize his career as an author. As numerous court documents, former Larson employees, knowledgeable third parties (e.g., Larson's attorneys), and internal BLM memos attest, Ministry employees do the work -- while on the Ministry payroll. All Larson does is col lect the royalties.

The following letter, submitted to the Jefferson County (Colo.) Dis trict Court in connection with a recent lawsuit by former BLM employee Muriel Olson, further evidences Larson's misuse of Ministry resources:


    June 20, 1990

    PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL

    Ms. Muriel Olson
    [address deleted]

      This will confirm our agreement regarding the work you have
    performed or will perform as an employee of Bob Larson Minis
    tries in connection with my novel involving Satanism.

      It is specifically understood that you expect no credit what
    soever in my novel as published or in any related or derivative
    work, but grant me the right without obligation, to use your
    name or likeness in credits or otherwise....

      Finally, you understand that you shall receive no additional
    compensation for your work in connection with my novel except
    payment for overtime work, specifically approved in advance by
    me."49

As indicated in Olson's complaint, it wasn't much of an "agreement"; Larson reportedly told her, in essence, that she had to sign that let ter ... or else.50 Larson won the lawsuit, on the ground that Olson's efforts were "within the scope of her employment."51 However, as both parties conceded in their briefs, Olson "was never an employee of Bob Larson personally."52 Yet, as a federal hearing officer determined in a related case, even though Olson's salary came from the Ministry, her only job was "to rewrite and edit chapters of a book" -- for the sole and exclusive benefit of Bob Larson.53 The thousands of hours she and others have spent writing works like Abaddon, Dead Air, Satanism: The Seduction of America's Youth, and Straight Answers on the New Age were paid for by faithful "Heroes," "Champions," and "Communicator Club" members.

Thomas Nelson Publications, the world's foremost publisher of Chris tian materials, evidently was aware of Larson's literary shortcomings. As the following excerpts from this internal BLM memo indicate, Nelson management aided and abetted him in his efforts to pass himself off as a legitimate author:

   "TO: Bonnie
    RE: Thomas Nelson Meeting
    CC: Margo/Angelo
    DATE: 07/03 [1992]
    FROM: Bob Larson

    1. They have a work for hire contract they are sending me to
    avoid any problems in the future....

    6. Insist me next manuscript be seen by a lot of people to make
    sure it's OK this time....

    9. If don't get book out on spring list 93 will want to wait
    until 94! ...

    11. In marketing the sequel, he doesn't want any move "waves"
    like we did last time, e.g. several pushes on certain dates. He
    wants to "go for the gusto" all at once when the book comes
    out. [All sentences in context]"54

While "work for hire" arrangements are perfectly legal55 -- and sur prisingly common in the Christian publishing industry56 -- the ethical implications of the practice are profound. It appears that, in their private dealings, these self-appointed mavens of "mainstream morality" can't even abide by the ethical standards established by that supposed object lesson in moral decay known as Hollywood.

That Larson continues to make liberal use of Ministry-paid staffers for his personal gain is evidenced by a second memo to Bonnie -- this time, written and initialed by BLM secretary Becky Prien:

      "Bob's been pulling me as soon as the show is over until I go
    home to do book edits.  Therefore, I can't get to the front
    desk from 4:30 to 6:00.  Lisa, Chris and Tammy have been taking
    my shifts, but today no one could stay late.  Angelo, however,
    finally found Debbi to stay for me."57

It almost seems as if everyone at BLM works on "Bob's" books -- except Bob! Ministry funds are used to pay for direct-mail campaigns, Minis try air time is used to run slick promotional spots, and Ministry stu dios have been used to create those ads. And even though the Ministry squanders so much of its "limited" resources in order to turn his lit erary fantasies into lucrative reality, Bob has the audacity to charge an author's royalty for the books it "gives" to contributors.58

For Whom the Bell Tolls...:

Unlike his celebrated counterpart, Jim Bakker, Bob Larson knows that his actions over the last few years are without question immoral -- if not patently illegal. Several callers have asked him on the air about the controversy, but their voices were quickly squelched by his panic button'. When the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) raised questions of their own, Larson indignantly withdrew his membership application.59 And all the while, his hand-picked board of directors sat in blissful acquiescence.

Larson has gone to extraordinary lengths to evade such outside scru tiny. When leaving BLM, key employees are required to sign confidentiality agreements' which, in essence, are intended to deter them from revealing evidence of wrongdoing,60 nor is he subject to peer review; the organization which provided him his ordination credentials -- Dave Ford's Evangelistic Messengers, of Cleveland, TN -- was not even aware of his divorce from ex-wife Kathy, some two years after the fact.61 And, as this excerpt from an August, 1992 memo, initialed by BLM vice president Angelo Diasparra suggests, the Ministry's financial informa tion is regarded as a state secret':

     "All other written requests for financial information regard
    ing the ministry or Bob personally will be referred to Angelo
    for disposition....  If a phone request is for anything other
    than the Stewardship Report, the caller is told to put the
    request in writing, giving reasons, and send it to the atten
    tion of the Chief Financial Officer."62

By sharp contrast, legitimate ministries (e.g., James Dobson's Focus on the Family) give out copies of their financial statements to anyone who asks.63 And even the LDS Church starts out its' annual televised meeting with a presentation of the audit report. But Larson acts like a man who has something to hide.

Tax fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, embezzlement -- these are matters best left to the proper authorities. But stewardship begins at home.


ENDNOTES:


Secrets of Freemasonry Revealed:

1 Kelly Hafey, "Evil Addiction (radio script)," 1 Jul. 1992, p. 1.

2 Mary Kilgannon, "Bob Backers (radio script)," 20 Oct. 1992, p. 1.

3 E.g., see Mary Kilgannon, "Teens Tormenting Teens (radio script),"
 31 Aug. 1992, pp. 2-3.

4 Mary Kilgannon, Memorandum (to Bob Larson), 28 Aug. 1992, pp. 1-3.

5 Linda [Felde?] per Margo [Hamilton], Memorandum (to Bob Larson), 27
 Jul. 1992, p. 1.

6 Michael Roberts, "The Evil That Men Do," Westword, May 27-Jun 2,
 1992, p. 18 (I confirmed this report with "Marjorie" -- who has known
 the Larsons socially for some time, and has been a valuable source of
 background information).

7 Lori Boespflug, Interview, 17 Jun. 1992.

8 Margo Hamilton, Memorandum (to Bob Larson), 10 Jul. 1992, p. 1.

The Prophet Motive:

9 Bob Larson, Fund Raising Analysis (attachment to a memorandum to
 Bonnie Bell), 26 Jun. 1992, pp. 1-2.

10 Jay Grelen and Doug LeBlanc, "This is Me, This is Real," World,
 Vol. 7, No. 32, 23 Jan. 1993, p. 8.

11 Karolyn Merriman, Letter (to Bob Larson), 11 May 1992, p. 1.

12 Anonymous, Letter, Colorado Christian News, April 1993, p. 8 (CCN
 editor Joann Bruso advised me in an April telephone conversation that
 she spoke to the author of that letter, and believes the story to be
 genuine).

13 Margo Hamilton, Memorandum (to Bob Larson), 20 Oct. 1992, p. 2.

14 Margo Hamilton, Memorandum (to Bob Larson), 26 Nov. 1991, pp. 1-2.

15 Lori Boespflug, Interview, 17 Jun. 1992 (corroborated by memoranda
 from former Larson staffer Alan Hergert re: technical aspects of stu
 dio set-up -- obtained from an independent source -- and verified by
 a technical glitch in the Sept. 29, 1993 broadcast of Talk-Back).

I Love Myself...
16 Bob Larson, "Talk-Back With Bob Larson," Radio broadcast, 29 Jan.
 1993.

17 Kathy Hendricks, Memorandum (to Bob Larson/Bonnie Bell), 10 Nov.
 1992.

18 Kathy Hendricks, Memorandum (to Bob Larson/Bonnie Bell), 14 Oct.
 1992.

19 Unidentified, Memorandum, 9 Nov. 1992.

20 Lori Boespflug, Telephone interview, Jun. 1992 (author made call to
 Phonecian Resort to determine 1993-94 high-season room rate).

21 Computerized personal telephone directory, Undated.

22 "In Search of Satan," Television broadcast, Home Box Office, 1993.

23 Author's personal observation (see, Bob Larson, "Talk-Back With Bob
 Larson," Radio broadcast, 19 Oct. 1992, for an oblique confirmation
 of the encounter).

24 Timothy Morgan, "Bob on the Block," Christianity Today, 17 May
 1993, p. 74.

25 Lori Boespflug, Interview, 17 Jun. 1992 (Mesplay is listed in the
 Denver telephone directory as a psychotherapist; he likewise appears
 on Larson's computerized rolodex).

26 Ibid., ibid. (key BLM managers were encouraged to receive treatment
 from Mesplay; Boespflug attended six sessions before refusing to con
 tinue).

27 Anonymous, Letter (to Edward Atsinger, President of Salem Communi
 cations), 1991. (The authenticity of the letter was confirmed by for
 mer Salem employee, attorney, and Christian talk-show host John Stew
 art.)

Jailhouse Rock?:
28 Bob Larson, Appeal Letter, 4 Jan. 1991, p. 2.

29 Bob Larson, Appeal Letter, 4 Feb. 1991, p. 2.

30 Bob Larson Ministries, 1990 Form 990, pp. 1-2 (copy on file).

31 Bob Larson Ministries, 1990 Stewardship Report, inside of folder.

32 Interview, Name withheld by request, 1993 (corroborated by the
 Ministry's 1990 federal form 990).

33 Bob Larson, Appeal Letter, 2 Dec. 1991, p. 2.

34 Bob Larson, Appeal Letter, 19 Feb. 1992, p. 2.

35 Bob Larson Ministries, Independent Auditors' Report, 18 Feb. 1992,
 cover letter.

36 18 U.S.C. 1341 (1988).

37 The scope of =1341 is nicely summarized in a 1965 case involving an
 employment agency scam perpetrated in Denver:

     "The crime of mail fraud is broad in its scope, and may ordi
    narily be shown by proof of the intentional devising of a
    scheme to defraud and that the mail was used in furtherance of
    it.  The scheme is one to defraud if it is reasonably calcu
    lated to deceive persons of ordinary prudence and comprehen
    sion.  Direct proof of willful intent is not necessary.  Not
    only are the patently false statements prohibited, but also
    those made with a reckless indifference as to whether they are
    true or false.  Similarly, the deceitful concealment of mate
    rial facts may also constitute actual fraud.  Moreover, the
    deception need not be premised upon the verbalized words alone.
    The arrangement of the words, or the circumstances in which
    they are used may convey the false and deceptive appearance
    [citations omitted]."

 Gusow v. United States, 347 F.2d 755 (10th Cir. 1965), cert. den 382
 US 906 (parallel citations omitted).

38 Larson (Fund Raising Analysis), supra note 9, p. 2.

39 Michael Harvey, Letter (to Bob Larson Ministries), 12 Dec. 1991
 (copy on file).

40 Michael Harvey, Telephone interview, 8 Sept. 1993.

Making of a Best-Selling Author:

41 Muriel Olson, Memorandum (to Bob Larson), 2 Feb. 1989, pp. 1-2.

42 Memorandum (to Bob Larson(?)), 1 Mar. 1989, p. 2(?) (the document
 itself is unattributed, but it is in substance supported by two other
 memos -- and one has Larson's handwriting on it).

43 Bonita ("Bonnie") Bell, Memorandum (to Bob Larson), 20 Aug. 1992,
 p. 2.

44 Bob Larson, "Underground (title ascertained from other sources),"
 (unpublished manuscript; copy on file), Undated, Chapter One, p. 1.

45 Ibid (the source has requested confidentiality).

46 Lori Boespflug, Interview, 17 Jun. 1992.

47 Affidavit of Muriel S. Olson at 6, Olson v. Larson, No. 92 CV 2058
 (Jefferson County (Colo.) Dist. Ct., Dec. 18, 1992).

48 Pam Koczman, Memorandum (to Bob Larson), 18 Aug. 1992 (copy on file
 includes Larson's handwriting, and FYI to Bonnie Bell).

49 Bob Larson, Letter (to Muriel Olson), 20 Jun. 1990.

50 Plaintiff's Brief in Response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or
 in the Alternative Motion for Summary Judgment at 6, Olson v. Larson.

51 Defendants' Reply Brief at 3, Id.

52 Order at 10, Id.

53  Francisco J. Flores, Jr. (Dist. Dir. of the U. S. Equal Employment
 Opportunity Commission), Determination Letter, Charge No. 3209211626,
 31 Dec. 1992, p. 1.

54 Bob Larson, Memorandum (to Bonnie Bell), 7 July 1992 (year deter
 mined in context).

55 17 U.S.C. =201(b) (1988).

56 See, e.g., Edward Plowman, "Haunted Houses" World, Vol. 8, No. 3,
 10 Apr. 1993, pp. 10-14.

57 Becky Prien, Memorandum (to Bonnie Bell), 20 Jul. 1992 (copy on
 file).

58 Bob Larson, Interview, 17 Oct. 1992 (see also, e.g., BLM's 1990
 Form 990 (related party transactions are to be disclosed therein) and
 Note 6 to BLM's 1991 audited financial statements ("During 1991, the
 Ministry purchased books and materials totaling $67,982 from an offi
 cer of the Ministry.  The officer's cost in the books and materials
 sold was $45,215").  Conclusion: another $22,000 falls into Larson's
 pocket.

For Whom the Bell Tolls:

59 See, Pat Mahoney, Fax (to Ken Smith), 22 Sept. 1993; Gary Massaro,
 "Ministry Quits Audit Group over Finances," Rocky Mountain News, 24
 Sept. 1993, p. 12A, col. 5, and a similar article by Joyce Mucci in
 the Kansas City Christian (cite unavailable at this time).

60 Larson tried to enforce just such an
agreement' in Bob Larson Min-  istries v. Boespflug, No. 93 CV 442 (Jefferson
County (Colo.) Dist.  Ct., filed 8 Mar. 1993).

61 David Ford, Telephone interview, 27 Sept. 1993.  According to Ford,
 the Association requires prospective ministers to engage in course
 work prior to ordination.  But twenty years ago, theirs was strictly
 an apprenticeship program.
   The Association's disciplinary procedures are ad hoc; evidence of a
 minister's malfeasance is brought to their attention on an informal
 basis.

62 Angelo Diasparra, Memorandum (to staff), 14 Aug. 1992.

63 Teresa Aggen (Focus on the Family), Telephone interview, 27 Sept.
 1993.


Copyright 1993 Kenneth L. Smith. Copying is permitted for non-commercial use. Please direct your questions to the author at P.O. Box 280135, Lakewood CO, 80028.

Copies of all unpublished documents cited or quoted in this article have been provided to the Christian Press Report (and others who have reproduced it in other media), except where the dissemination of such information would create the risk of exposing confidential sources to recrimination. These individuals have been instructed not to provide copies to others without my express approval.
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