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Widow: Pastors Reneged On Deal To Care For Me

TAMPA - In his 21 years in the business, mortgage lender and real estate broker Van Anderson has closed about 700 deals. But he never forgot the one in January 1999 between an elderly widow and Without Walls International Church pastors Randy and Paula White. Anderson and closing agent Peggy Connor served as witnesses the day Ruth McGinnis, now 85, signed off on a $170,000 lien she had on a house owned by the Whites. What made the transaction unusual was that there was no payoff, Anderson said.
'That's only happened one other time in all my years doing this,' he said. Instead, McGinnis believed she had something worth more: the Whites' promise to care for her for the rest of her life, even allowing her to live with them. They haven't lived up to their deal, McGinnis said earlier this month. Her story is an example of how the couple's promises have been questioned when money is involved. On Friday, The Tampa Tribune chronicled LaShonda Dupree's heartbreak when she learned she would never live in a home she believed she won as part of a contest sponsored by the church. And a May 20 story by the Tribune reported that five businesses have filed suits or liens against Without Walls since 2000. All accused the $40 million-a-year megachurch of failing to pay bills or reneging on contracts. All were resolved in the plaintiffs' favor. Anderson and Connor remember the day they met McGinnis and her pastors. Anderson had brokered the sale when the Whites purchased a $650,000 Cheval home in 1995. McGinnis loaned the Whites $170,000 toward that purchase, and her attorney later helped her secure the loan with a lien on the home. She also got a signed agreement stipulating that she would live with the Whites 'as a member of the family' for the rest of her life. In 1999, the Whites approached Anderson about refinancing the house. In January, Anderson and Connor met the Whites and McGinnis at Alpha-Omega Title Services in Tampa. McGinnis remained in a small lobby while most of the transaction took place, she told the Tribune earlier this month. She wasn't feeling good that day, she has said, but the Whites took her because they wanted her to sign papers. Anderson and Connor said they carefully explained the terms of the deal to McGinnis. She had no lawyer with her, they said. If you sign this, Anderson said he told her, you forfeit your claim to your $170,000. She said she understood, the two said. 'That's when Paula White said, 'Ruth, you know you'll always live with us, and we'll always take care of you,'' Anderson recalled. He said he told McGinnis she was making a mistake in not satisfying her lien with a payoff. But she said she understood what she was doing and signed, he recalled. Within months, McGinnis began calling Connor at her office, saying the Whites were not keeping the promises they made in the lifetime agreement, Connor said, and McGinnis said she regretted signing off on the mortgage. 'She was very upset and very insistent, but I told her there was nothing I could do,' Connor said. 'What she needed was an attorney.' Five months later, McGinnis called her attorney, William Platt, and told him she had signed a document involving the mortgage lien he had helped to broker. In a memo to himself about the conversation, Platt wrote: 'I was pretty hard on her about my telling her when I worked out her mortgage that she should not sign any paper no matter when and or what circumstances till she talked to me about it. She didn't call and as usual, relied on her preacher and did what he asked.' Platt said he told her he could no longer represent her because she didn't heed his advice. He wrote her a letter a few months later noting 'the relationship with the Whites involves a substantial financial interest of yours and I ENCOURAGE YOU TO PROMPTLY SEEK THE ADVICE OF AN ATTORNEY.' 'I put that sentence in capital letters because I felt that strongly about it,' he said. The Whites, who purchased a home on Bayshore Boulevard for $2.1 million in 2002, sold the Cheval house for $1 million in 2006. In interviews earlier this month, McGinnis said she didn't know about the sale and never received money from it, or any other payoff of her loan. She never lived in the Bayshore house, she has said. Randy White disputed that. 'She has a room here, and I have videotapes of her spending the night here,' he said earlier this month. What McGinnis wants most, she has said, is 'for us to be like family again, like it used to be.' On Thursday, White released a statement through his public relations firm, saying, 'We love Mother Ruth and we have tried to keep our word to Ruth's late husband, who asked us to care for Ruth when he passed on. Ruth is part of our family.' McGinnis 'absolutely had lawyers representing her interests concerning the termination of our relationship,' it continued. 'There were two witnesses to the transaction and it was a legal closing.' McGinnis has said she never terminated the agreement for care, insisting that 'I never signed any papers like that.' 'Beyond that,' White's Thursday statement continued, 'any financial arrangement between Ruth and us is a strictly private matter. Ruth has said she doesn't want it discussed in public, and I respect her privacy.'

Reporter Michelle Bearden can be reached at (813) 259-7613 or [email protected] Reporter Baird Helgeson can be reached at (813) 259-7668 or [email protected]

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