A state investigation into the business practices of a charity affiliated with religious broadcaster Pat Robertson found sloppy bookkeeping but no intent to cheat, according to a report released today.
The state attorney general's office said there was "an unfortunate blemish" on Robertson's Operation Blessing because of accounting practices involved in the use of the charity's relief aircraft for a diamond mining operation owned by a Robertson company.
Working in Zaire, now known as Congo, at a time of immense civil turmoil in 1994-95, "Operation Blessing was motivated by legitimate charitable purposes," the report said. The airplanes provided medical and other humanitarian aid.
But the corporate use of the planes in ferrying equipment to the for-profit mining company "was not handled with the care and diligence to which charitable organizations must be held accountable," the report said.
Robertson's office in Virginia Beach issued a statement today hailing the findings, because no basis was found to take legal action against the charity or its founder, Robertson. Operation Blessing had said that the diamond company reimbursed the charity for use of the planes.
State Democrats have seized on the matter as an improper use of a charity and a possible violation of Operation Blessing's tax-exempt status. Attorney General Mark L. Earley (R), whose office conducted the investigation, is from Robertson's home turf in Hampton Roads, Va., and Robertson was a major contributor to his 1997 election campaign.
"The attorney general's report confirms my fear about Operation Blessing," said state Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax), who has tried to strip the charity of its tax-exempt status.
"One person's error in accounting is another person's illegality," Howell said.
"It is both sad and troubling," Robertson said in a statement, "that some would resort to political partisanship to attack a charity that has done so much to help so many people around the world."
CAPTION: A for-profit company owned by Pat Robertson used the charity's planes.