In the early 1950s, Billy Britt attended Peoples Bible College in High Point, North Carolina. In 1993, Peoples had become John Wesley College, and Britt’s wife Viola was a member of its board. Frank Scurry, the NCYM pastor who also headed the Houston extension program there, told John Wesley’s President, Brian Donley, about Deters and Productions Plus. Donley was interested. His school was in tenuous financial condition: in debt, unaccredited, and paying very low salaries to its faculty. Donley and his board could think of many uses for matching grants: retiring the debt, some new building, scholarships.
In short order the drill was repeated: Deters visited the campus, promised a threefold match in three years, and the board, after only cursory inquiries and the invocation of Eugene Coffin’s name, voted to send her $100,000.
How cursory was their check of Deters’ bona fides? She had given them a list of “referrals,” which included Delbert Vaughn, then President of the Houston Graduate School of Theology (HGST). Donley called Vaughn on December 13, 1993, and took notes of their conversation. Here is some of what Vaughn told him, which shows what con artists call the “roping” process in full swing:
- “He [Vaughn] is very pleased with his association with Mrs. Deters. She is extremely enthused about what she is doing. She is very interested in helping independent or smaller struggling organization accomplish their objectives IF they are serious about reaching people for Christ. She is very evangelical.”Everything she has promised has been fulfilled….Again, what she promises, she delivers….
“Dr. Eugene Coffin (sp) is on her Board and has served on the Board of George Fox College. He is especially gifted in finance, of highest integrity, and shares her commitment.
“She loves to share the successes of her various programs and gets blessed talking about them.
“She works with four companies, all of which have excellent financial track records….
“She has been thoroughly investigated by several major banks and tax attorneys. Everything she is doing is legal.”
I also spoke to Delbert Vaughn last November. His responses then were somewhat different. He spoke rapidly but disjointedly. Here is a sample:
- Did you or your Board know about the 1991 Cease and Desist orders when they got the deposit from North Carolina Yearly Meeting?
- I wouldn’t dare tell you yes or no. We knew what we were doing….I hope you don’t put out any indication that we didn’t know what we were doing. Our Board of Directors knew what they were doing. There was total information by the Board….I don’t want our school publicized with something that’s wrong or irregular or where we didn’t know what we were doing….I’d just as soon you left our school out of this. (repeated several times)…We all respect our school, it’s been a good school, a clean school, we don’t want to be hurt by any news, worthy or unworthy.”
According to Deters’ records, by the time Vaughn spoke to Donley, HGST had deposited $149,000, and received back $178,000. Thus they were ahead at that point, and his enthusiasm then is perhaps understandable, unencumbered as it was by any real information except bank balances. With that money HGST bought 53 acres of land in Houston, which was to be the site of a new campus complex, much of which they expected to be financed by future Productions Plus grants.
To that end, they sent Deters at least another $285,000, for a total of $434,453 by mid-1994. However, Deters records indicate they received back only another $5700, leaving a deficit of a quarter of a million dollars.
HGST’s current President, David Robinson, declined to confirm these figures. But it is known that the school has put the 53-acre property up for sale. In addition, Houston has been consistently late in sending the interest payments due to North Carolina on the $100,000 loss it agreed to cover, and has twice asked for the interest rate to be reduced.
When I asked Vaughn if HGST had filed a claim with the receiver to seek recovery of its losses, his response was instant: “There’s been no claim filed by the school in California. We never filed a claim against anyone such as that.”
When I referred in passing to the losses suffered by other investors, Vaughn could not resist repeating the mantra of the Deters believer/victim: “Many people say that Priscilla Deters doesn’t have any money, but I don’t think they know.”
Vaughn’s successor as President, David Robinson, was more straightforward, if not much more informative. He agreed that Vaughn has “a strong personal commitment to this, and urgently desires for this to work out. We all do. But,” he added, “some of the rest of us are understanding of the realities.”
Whatever Vaughn knew or didn’t know in 1993, his recommendation weighed heavily with Brian Donley. John Wesley College sent $100,000 to Productions Plus in January of 1994. It was one of the last institutional deposits to be made.
The first interest payment on their 1994 deposit of $100,000 arrived late, but it did get there. Afterward, Deters called president Brian Donley to suggest that she hold the rest of the year’s payments until the end of the year, which would allow more interest to accrue.
Donley agreed, but cautioned her that they definitely needed the funds by early January, 1995. He explained to Priscilla that he planned to use the interest for after-Christmas bonuses for his underpaid faculty. “Our faculty members earn so little,” he told her,” that after the holidays this bonus is a real blessing.”
But just before the holidays, Donley got a call from a local board member, advising him of the imminent appearance of the Quaker Life article. He wrote to Deters about this, affirming that, “We were confident, however, that Productions Plus would continue to honor the agreements made with John Wesley College, especially given the track record other organizations have had with you.”
Ah, innocence. By January 31, the interest money had not arrived, and panic was abroad among the college officials. The executive Committee gathered in Donley’s office that evening to figure out what to do.
The first thing response was the entirely familiar: their Board member Viola Britt, wife of alumnus Billy Britt, offered to call Eugene Coffin in California for advice. Coffin too did the expected: “He assured us,” Donley wrote, “that you would fulfill your agreements and that we should not be alarmed.” He added that the rumored trouble in Kansas was a satanic attack.
But the board was alarmed. It resolved to pray for all concerned, and to send Donley and two others to California to meet Deters and Coffin. Donley had strict instructions to bring back either their matching gift or their original deposit.
Donley went where he was sent, and his delegations spent five days in February negotiating with Priscilla and sister Phyllis in California.
But all they came back with was empty pockets and a “non-disclosure agreement” that the twins insisted they sign, which pledged them not to discuss “proprietary information” with any third party.
Well, that was not quite all. They were also given a one-page “report,” dated January 3, 1995, listing an inventory of items which, it stated, “represents the fund-raising efforts of Productions Plus on behalf of” the college.
The list is cruelly revealing. It included:
- 1000 copies of the book, The Painted Word, which included reproductions of the Life of Christ paintings, priced at $35 per copy, with a 65% volume discount.
- 55 sets of a “Vignettes Collection” of reproductions of Jackson Bailey’s work, priced at $1000 per set, again with a volume discount of 65%. And
- 1000 copies of the book, Founded on the Floods, priced at $10 each, with a volume discount of 50%.
Let us do a bit of math here. The total list price of all these items comes to $100,000, the amount of John Wesley’s investment. But if they were sold at the listed discounts, the profit, from which the college’s matching grant was to come, would Buy retrovir total only $63,500, considerably less than double.
But that is not the worst of it. Founded on the Floods was the only item that was solidly accounted for in Deters’ enterprise, and it was selling, at best, “sporadically.” As for the stock of The Painted Word, she did not own it at all. These books, published in 1980, belonged to and were stored with the Life of Christ paintings. Both were still locked up in Florida, awaiting the Sheriff’s Sale which would take them away from her forever.
And finally, there is no evidence that the sets of Bailey’s “vignettes” even existed.
That was what John Wesley’s money had bought them.
It was not reported what they did about their faculty bonuses in 1995. But they never saw their $100,000 again.