Jeff Smith, public television's "Frugal Gourmet," has agreed to pay an undisclosed amount of money to seven men who accused him of molesting them when they were teenagers.
The settlement, reached Wednesday, apparently included no apology or admission of wrongdoing from Smith, a bubbly, white-goateed Methodist minister and 59-year-old father of two grown sons.
The lawsuits had been scheduled to go to trial on Monday in Tacoma.
Six of the men worked for Smith during the 1970s and early '80s at the Chaplain's Pantry, his catering service, cooking school and restaurant in Tacoma, where he had been a chaplain at the University of Puget Sound. The seventh man was 20-year-old who said Smith picked him up as a hitchhiker in 1992 and tried to rape him.
"I'm kind of disappointed it doesn't include some kind of admission from him," said 38-year-old Rodney L. Pedersen, who accused Smith of repeatedly getting him drunk as a teenager and forcing him to perform sex acts. On the other hand, Pedersen told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "I'm glad we're not going to be dragged through the trial."
Smith has not been charged with any crime. The statute of limitations on all the alleged offenses has run out. He has denied all the accusations and would not comment after the settlement was reached.
"I'm sorry. I'm cooking lunch for my staff. Call my lawyer in Tacoma. Thank you," Smith told the Post-Intelligencer.
Neither the men's lawyer, F. Mike Shaffer, nor Smith's attorney, Edward S. Winskill, would disclose the terms.
"It was a very attractive settlement for my clients," Shaffer said. "I think all of them are very satisfied."
Smith's career has been on hold since the lawsuits were filed last year.
Smith's dozen cookbooks have sold a reported 12 million copies, and his series was watched by an estimated 15 million people a week on 300 public stations. But with the last rerun rights expiring, the show is now seen on only about six stations.
Stu Kantor, a PBS spokesman, would not say whether the network would be interested in resuming the series.
Winskill said he did not know Smith's publishing or TV plans.
The settlement also covers claims against Smith's wife, Patricia Dailey Smith, and Smith's Frugal Gourmet business enterprises.
"I hope this case brings awareness to a problem in our nation," said one of the men, 42-year-old Karl E. Washburn. "Pedophiles: There's more than you think."