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Harassment Claims Roil Habitat for Humanity

"What people know who worked with Millard for a long time was that this behavior was very prevalent. Five of us were willing to come forward and confront it," said Susan Rhema, 46, who was a Habitat volunteer in Africa and Peru before serving as the organization's director of training from 1986 to 1991.

More Allegations

The Rev. Julie Peeples and the Rev. Paul Davis, a married couple who were Habitat for Humanity's staff chaplains at the time, said the allegations came to light in their routine exit interviews with women who were leaving the organization. Five women went to the board and "easily four or five others shared their stories" but did not want to confront Fuller, Peeples said.

Millard Fuller, right, talks to Jim Ervin of the Lions Club and former president Jimmy Carter -- a high-profile supporter of the charity Fuller founded. (Erik S. Lesser -- Lions Club Via AP)

Millard Fuller

Jan. 3, 1935: Born in Lanett, Ala.

1957: Graduated from Auburn University in Alabama.

1959: Married Linda Caldwell.

1960: Received law degree from University of Alabama and passed Alabama bar (in 1972, he passed the Georgia bar). Served briefly in the Army.

1960: Co-founder of Fuller and Dees Marketing Group Inc. in Montgomery, Ala.

1960-65: Partner in Fuller and Dees law firm in Montgomery.

1966-68: Development director of Tougaloo College in Mississippi.

1968-72: Director of Koinonia Partners Inc. Developed business operations for Koinonia Christian community in Americus, Ga.

1973-76: Became Church of Christ's director of development in Zaire. Initiated housing project for low-income families in Mbandaka, Zaire.

1976-2005: Founder and president of Habitat for Humanity International.

1996: Awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton.

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Millard Fuller "was somebody I had held on a pedestal for years and years, and I didn't want to believe it. But these were women who weren't out for anything," said Peeples, now pastor of the Congregational United Church of Christ in Greensboro, N.C.

In the interview at his home, Fuller described the 1990-91 allegations as a cultural misunderstanding.

"In the southern culture that I was raised up in and Jimmy Carter was raised up in, very warm affection to women was shown by men. So when they said I had done something wrong, I was astounded because I was doing nothing more than what I'd been doing all my life," he said. "But when they said it was offensive to them, I said, 'I'm sorry, please forgive me. It won't happen again.' " While Fuller said his actions 15 years ago were misinterpreted, he called the latest allegation "completely false."

The accuser, Victoria Cross, is a former Habitat for Humanity employee whose husband is serving as a military chaplain in Iraq, according to members of the board. Her attorney, Steven Carrigan of Houston, said that she was negotiating a settlement with Habitat and that she would not discuss the details of the allegation.

According to a report by a law firm hired by the board to investigate Cross's allegation, she drove Fuller from Americus to the Atlanta airport on Feb. 21, 2003. During that 2 1/2-hour ride, he allegedly talked about the Bible and sexuality.

"Millard began to speak in a soft tone about how, in the Old Testament, baby girls develop into little girls who are sweet and innocent, and it would be appropriate for them to sit on his lap, but in the New Testament, those little girls would have gone through God's Plan and met the fulfillment of a little girl growing into beautiful full grown women," the report said.

Fuller allegedly asked Cross several times if it would be appropriate for her, "as a full grown beautiful woman," to sit on his lap. While she was driving, he began rubbing her right arm, then stroked her cheek and chin, told her she had soft skin and ran his fingertips "down the line of her mid-chest to the point of her mid-sternum," at which point she jerked away, the report said.

In the interview at his home, Fuller said he never touched Cross. After she dropped him off at the airport curb, he said, she parked her car and then returned to have lunch with him in the terminal.

"Common sense tells you that if I had done something improper to that woman, she wouldn't have looked me up to have lunch with me," he said.

Many of Fuller's supporters also say the facts are on his side.

Dale Young, a longtime Habitat volunteer in Bedford Hills, N.Y., said she has been with Fuller "in dozens of situations, with dozens and dozens of women" and has never seen any inappropriate behavior.

"Millard is an honest man," she said. "If he had done something wrong, he would own up to it."

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