(RNS) — The longtime leader of a North Carolina Baptist charity stepped down this week after an internal investigation found he had used almost $90,000 in charitable funds for personal expenses over the past three years.
The investigation also found that 81-year-old Michael Blackwell, who had led the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina since 1983, had diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to a special account set up for his benefit.
He also bought his wife a new car using charitable funds, according to a report from forensic auditors.
Blackwell, who had been on leave since May, when the investigation was launched, has agreed to pay back $88,803.14 in personal expenses charged over a three-year period to his company credit card.
“The Forensic Report describes the personal nature of these expenses, which include snacks, drinks, nutritional supplements, clothes, health care costs, subscriptions, and stays at Structure House—a self-improvement center where program participants stay in ‘luxury apartments,’” according to an investigative report made public this week.
Blackwell denied any wrongdoing in an interview with the Biblical Recorder, a state newspaper for North Carolina Baptists, and in a statement sent to the paper and Baptist leaders.
“There were some misunderstandings, (but) there certainly was no deliberate misuse of anything, ever on my part,” Blackwell said in the interview. According to the Biblical Recorder, Blackwell was allowed to see a summary of the financial review before it was published.
Blackwell also said in the statement that he “had never deliberately done anything to bring harm to this ministry that is so deeply personal to me,” the Biblical Recorder reported.
Todd Unzicker, executive director of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, called the Children’s Homes, which operates residences for children in 35 locations in the U.S. as well as an orphanage in Guatemala, a “beloved ministry” in the state.
“The actions identified by the summary report represent a betrayal of trust with the people that love and support the ministry,” Unzicker said. “We are encouraged to see BCH trustees move toward a change in executive leadership and seek restitution. They should be commended for commissioning an independent financial review and then acting swiftly upon receiving the results.”
Blackwell is the latest in a series of Southern Baptist leaders to step down due to controversy, scandal or alleged mismanagement.