Update by Chuck Fager
Wichita, Kansas — Randy Littlefield remains a true believer in Priscilla Deters’ honesty and character. He is also convinced that she has been persecuted by the authorities who now have her on trial.
With that background, his testimony in her trial could have been expected to be contentious, especially on cross-examination.
It was. The former pastor of the Cherokee Friends Church in Cherokee, Oklahoma, Littlefield sparred with prosecutors over almost every point of his statements regarding the fate of $475,000 sent to Deters’ company from Cherokee.
Littlefield was pastor of the Cherokee Friends Church in 1992 and 1993, when funds were collected for Deters’ company, Productions Plus. He took the stand as a key part of the defense effort. The case is expected to turn on whether Deters intended to defraud her clients of their money; if she can persuade the jury that she was simply an honest businesswoman frustrated and persecuted into failure, she can expect an acquittal.
Littlefield said he first contacted Deters in 1992, in an effort to help raise funds for a new church building and community center. At his invitation, Deters came to Cherokee and described her program to the church congregation and other interested persons. By making “deposits” with Deters, he explained, “we had an opportunity to receive gifts as Mrs. Deters’ businesses prospered.”
Littlefield described the agreement between Deters, Friends church members and local citizens as a “covenant,” and insisted it was established and conducted strictly “on a spiritual basis.” He said Deters told the church of biblical examples of God making covenants with Israel as the model for the relationship.
Asked by defense counsel Steve Gradert if the relationship offered any guarantees of returns, Littlefield answered, “Absolutely not.” He was similarly emphatic in denying that Deters had offered “matching gifts” for depositors’ money.
After leaving Cherokee, Littlefield said, he was pastor of League City Friends Church near Houston, Texas. When he left there, he went to California and worked for Deters as an “independent consultant,” attempting to sell her books and advertising signs. He stated that he only actually worked for her for about two months, and his paychecks of $600-$700 per month were infrequent. When Gradert inquired as to why, he said he figured it was because the company was strapped for cash. By that time, investigations of Deters in Kansas and Calfironia were proceeding apace.
Nevertheless, asked his overall opinion of Deters, Littlefield assured Gradert and the jury that he considered her “very honest and has a lot of integrity.”
Prosecutor Allen Metzger clashed with Littlefield from his first question on cross-examination. He asked if it was true that Littlefield had invested $10,000 with Deters and had persuaded his mother, Earlene Littlefield, to invest $100,000, both with no return.
Littlefield affirmed the amounts, but insisted that these funds were placed not with Deters but with the Houston Graduate School of Theology, which was attempting to raise money to build a new campus. “They decided what to do with the money,” he insisted.
But Metzger was ready with a letter Littlefield had written to Deters in 1994 about these funds, indicating plans for them, and won a grudging admission that this indicated he did know the funds were going to Productions Plus.
Littlefield also bridled when Metzger asked whether Cherokee Friends had “invested $475,000 with Deters’ companies.”
- “No,” he countered, “it was not an ‘investment.’ It was never called an ‘investment.’””But the money was supposed to be kept safe?”
“Wasn’t it supposed to be put into a certificate of deposit?”
“No,” Littlefield said, “just that it would be in an FDIC insured account.”
“Did you tell the defendant that she could spend that money on her children and her personal expenses?” Metzger pressed. “Did you know she had given her son money to buy a $775,000 house?”
“My question,” Littlefield retorted, “is, has that been proven?”
At this, Judge Monti Belot, who is known as a stern courtroom disciplinarian, angrily rebuked the witness. “Mr. Littlefield, you do not ask questions,” the judge said. “You are here to answer questions.”
Metzger relentlessly reeled off what is now a familiar list of challenges:
- “Would it be important to know if Mrs. Deters was going to spend this money on payments to her children, her aged mother, and other personal expenses?”
In each case Littlefield acknowledged that it would be important to know.
“If she didn’t tell you she was spending this money in these ways,” Metzger summed up, “would that cause you to question her honesty?”
After a long pause, Littlefield murmured, “Yes.”
Nor was Metzger ready to give up on “matching gifts” and CDs. Showing Littlefield a prospectus for the program distributed by the Cherokee Friends Church, he had the witness read to the jury a statement that “Productions Plus made a FAITH COVENANT AGREEMENT TO MATCH EACH DOLLAR that’s deposited….”
Metzger then had Littlefield read another statement, that the funds would be “placed in TIME SAVINGS CERTIFICATES…” (Note: capitals in the quotes were in the document.)
- “So your committee thought CDs were going to be bought?” Metzger asked.”I guess so,” Littlefield conceded, adding, that “this was an evolving understanding.” ”
But this document reflects the community belief, after Mrs. Deters’ presentation, that their money was going to be in CDs, doesn’t it?”
Again, Littlefield paused, and then said quietly, “It does.”
Metzger then turned to Littlefield’s work at the Friends Church in League City, Texas, where he went from Cherokee.
- “League City sent $139,000 to Productions Plus, is that right?”I don’t know the exact amount,” Littlefield replied.
“If the defendant’s bank deposits shows that amount from them, would that be correct?”
“In fact,” Metzger said, “that’s why you had to leave League City, isn’t it? Because they lost that money?”
“I can’t say that,” Littlefield protested.
“But you left League City without a job, correct?”
“That’s the way it is in the Friends Church,” Littlefield said.
“But League City lost its $139,000, didn’t it?”
“No,” Littlefield demurrred, “it has not.”
“Did it get the money back?” Metzger asked. “Did the defendant give you any evidence that the $139,000 was in a CD anywhere?”
In addition to Littlefield, the defense brought in an artist, Jackson Bailey, whose major work is the world’s largest painting of the life of Christ. Deters tried for several years to obtain the paintings and display them as a fundraising effort, without success.
The court also heard from Duane Hansen, the Presiding Clerk of Mid-America Yearly Meeting of Friends Church, the association to which the Cherokee Friends Church belongs. Hansen told about his discovery that the yearly meeting’s former superintendent, Maurice Roberts, had misled him and other yearly meeting officials about certain agreements he made to local churches.
Roberts had privately pledged that the yearly meeting would guarantee the return of these churches’ investments with Productions Plus, but told Hansen no such agreements existed. After the truth was disclosed, in August, 1994, Roberts was forced to resign.
The trial continues Wednesday, and Judge Belot told the jury he expects it to conclude by Friday.
NOTE: The outlines of the prosecution and defense arguments closely parallel and corroborate my reporting in “Fleecing the Faithful”.