Pat Robertson's Quest For Eternal Life He's making bets to ensure that his evangelical empire outlasts him. His portfolio so far: a gold mine in Liberia, a mothballed oil refinery, and $78 million in losses.
By Daniel Roth

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Jesus mania swept Liberia. For eight nights last December the nation's TV channels--both of them--simultaneously showed programs created by Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network. There was the Prodigal Son parable told from a Nigerian point of view; animated Bible episodes; stories about people who said they'd had out-of-body experiences and come face to face with the Almighty; and the true tale of a Mexican family who stayed together thanks to God. For two nights the stations simply broadcast testimonials from Liberians detailing Jesus' role in their lives. Those without televisions (the vast majority of the country) could catch the same fare at local "video clubs"--converted storefronts where people paid the equivalent of a few pennies to gather around a TV and VCR.

That was just the buildup. In February, at a national three-day prayer-and-fast rally partially funded by Robertson, Liberia's President--a U.S. prison escapee who, according to Human Rights Watch, has run "the whole gamut of human rights abuses"--declared he had seen the light. "We in Liberia recognize that there is a higher authority," said Charles Taylor, decked out in a short-sleeved white suit and standing on a red-carpeted stage at the center of the Samuel K. Doe stadium in Monrovia. "I am not your President. Jesus is!" He instructed the estimated 65,000 people in the crowd to prostrate themselves and join in a song that he would lead despite his position--face down on the carpet. As the rally ended, Taylor presented a ceremonial plate to an American preacher named John Gimenez who had helped organize the event. "Thank you," Taylor said. "Tell Pat Robertson, and please present this to him as a token of our appreciation."

About 190 miles away, in a densely forested region of Liberia called Bukon Jedeh, Robertson's employees were busy working on a much more valuable token of Taylor's appreciation. There a crew of 35 Liberians were digging deep holes into the red, claylike soil on a plot of land contracted out to Robertson. Their goal was to uncover the spot, beneath the gravel and laterite, that they believed held five million ounces of the stuff that the Book of Revelation says lines the streets of heaven: pure gold. Gold that if sold on the open market could reap about $1.5 billion.

Behind the media blitz of Monrovia and the trenches of Bukon Jedeh is the tale of Pat Robertson's search for immortality. In the past few years Robertson has slowly slipped out of view, especially in politics, where his ambitions once extended to the White House. But he has hardly gone into retirement. In fact, friends and family say he's working with more intensity than ever. His mission: not just to boost his $300-million-a-year empire--dominant Christian broadcaster CBN, an all-graduate-level university called Regent, and his Operation Blessing global charity--but also to make sure it lasts forever.

So lately the preacher has been making big, risky bets. Robertson's businesses are sustained largely by his uncanny ability to persuade ordinary folks to send him cash. For his kingdom to survive without him, he needs new sources of income. That has led him to two of the world's oldest wealth creators: gold and oil. If his ventures pay off, Robertson's Christian conversion machine could become a permanent fixture in the media landscape all over the world. If they fail? Well, Robertson might be about to find out.

It's two hours before airtime for the 700 Club, one of the longest-running TV shows in history, and Robertson is exactly where he likes to be: flat on his back, with 700 pounds resting above his head. He is a fanatic for leg presses. The CBN Website, hyping an "age defying" protein shake invented by Robertson, asks breathlessly, "Did you know that Pat Robertson can leg-press 600 pounds!" The executive in charge of Robertson's investments says it's really more like 1,000 pounds.

But on this early Tuesday morning, Robertson, dressed in a shiny black sweatsuit and bright-white Reebok sneakers, is maxing out a few hundred shy of that. "Two more, Doc?" asks the burly trainer standing beside the machine. "Forty-fives?" replies Robertson. "Yeah," says the trainer. Robertson nods and 90 more pounds are added. He pushes out ten abbreviated knee bends, his face quickly turning red under his white hair. Then he ambles out of the machine.

Marion Gordon "Pat" Robertson is 72 years old. He treats his empire the way he does his body: believing that he can grow it just as he did in his late 20s. It was then--at age 29--that Roberts bought a dilapidated UHF channel in Portsmouth, Va., for $37,000 and turned it into the Christian Broadcasting Network. The son of a U.S. Senator, Robertson had graduated from Yale Law School and started his own speaker-manufacturing company when he heard the call of the ministry. He fled corporate life, tried poverty for a while, then, upon founding CBN in 1960, discovered that business and the Bible could happily mix.

Over the next few decades, Robertson built the nonprofit CBN into an empire. He pioneered the use of satellite to beam The 700 Club--which offers both news and commentary from a Christian perspective--across the country to content-hungry cable operators. Later he added cheap family-oriented TV shows like Gunsmoke and Rin Tin Tin: K-9 Cop to create a 24-hour channel that in 1992 went public as International Family Entertainment. He launched the Christian Coalition--a group he stepped down from in December--and built a political base large enough that even today he can still get the ear of just about any politician in the country. He founded Regent (originally called CBN University), a school designed, as the motto says, to create "Christian leadership to change the world."

The result of his efforts is a sprawling 685-acre campus in Virginia Beach, dotted with dogwoods and magnolias, curving roads, and Georgian-style buildings that, despite being just over two decades old, look as if they've been standing for centuries. The grounds fan out from CBN, which broadcasts out of a cross-shaped, red-brick building with a domed chapel, where Robertson preaches to employees and prays over viewer mail. Out front is the 240-room Founders Inn hotel, with its reproduction oil portraits of Washington and Jefferson--along with CBN founder Robertson, clutching a Bible and standing before an undulating American flag. Nearby is the National Counseling Center, CBN's 24-hour telephone center, which gets some 2.5 million calls a year from people asking for help and being asked to give. Over 200 "prayer counselors" carefully track incoming calls, allowing CBN to analyze The 700 Club in 30-second intervals to find out which pieces drive pledges and which drive them away. Some 93% of pledges come in when The 700 Club is on.

A short stroll away is Regent University, including the 130,000-square-foot Robertson Hall (which houses his ACLU-battling group, the American Center for Law and Justice); the university's airy library; and a new, $35 million College of Communications and Arts, which when completed will feature a movie back lot, $6 million of digital video equipment, and a 750-person auditorium. For Robertson to survey his empire, all he has to do is jump in his black Corvette and peel--and that's the right word, says an employee, joking that he makes turns "almost on two wheels"--through the trails.

But the campus, the TV empire, the university, and the political machine were all just part of the first 40-year phase of Robertson's plan. Phase II will take much longer. It involves turning his creations into institutions with staying power. For Regent, that means becoming a university on a par with Harvard, Oxford, or Yale. ("I'm not going to settle for anything less," Robertson says. "I'm not comparing myself to Podunk U.") But even more important is what it means for CBN. Currently the network's programs are seen by 200 million people a year, in 90 countries and in 71 different languages. By 2007, Robertson wants to reach one billion people a year. Today CBN is global; the goal is to make it, and the Robertson name, ubiquitous--and permanent.

"Pat's a very attractive guy to the masses--he really is," says Lowell Morse, who oversees Robertson's investments as head of Robertson Asset Management. "He is going to be a more attractive guy, in my opinion, when he's dead. People are not going to realize the impact he had until he's gone."

To make sure that happens, Robertson has entrusted his youngest son and heir apparent, Gordon, 43, to spread the Word. In the past few years, the onetime lawyer has opened studios in India, the Philippines, and Ukraine, cloning The 700 Club and creating new shows like Surat, a program in Indonesia, with formerly Muslim women talking about issues of the day. This February he dedicated a $5 million studio in Jakarta filled with the latest broadcasting equipment; now he's trying to turn it into a 24-hour cable channel. In less developed countries, CBN employs "blitzes"--attempts to expose a population to Jesus by buying up as much airtime on as many media in a country as possible. Since the early 1990s, CBN has launched its media strikes in some 31 countries.

Immortality, unfortunately, doesn't come cheap. In the past three years, CBN and its Operation Blessing charity have been running in the red, losing $37.5 million on revenues of $202 million in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2001 (the most recent for which figures are available), according to Wall Watchers, a group in Matthews, N.C., that serves as a kind of Morningstar for Christian ministries. The bulk of the revenues comes from donations: $95 million to CBN and $66 million to Operation Blessing. Of that, CBN spends $90 million staffing its National Counseling Center and producing and syndicating its shows in the U.S. (though thanks to a contract provision, ABC is required to carry The 700 Club on its ABC Family channel free, forever). International outreach costs an additional $24 million, with much of it going to offices, studios, and the blitzes, which can run from $1.5 million in more developed countries like Guatemala to $20,000 in places like Burkina Faso. (The Liberian blitz cost $60,000.)

The question is whether donations--which have ranged between $83 million and $95 million annually over the past eight years--will keep up once Robertson is gone. History doesn't look good. When Robertson was mulling a run for President in the late 1980s, CBN was hot. In its fiscal year ended March 31, 1987, the nonprofit pulled in $130 million in donations. Later that year Robertson declared his bid and turned over 700 Club hosting duties to eldest son Tim, now 47. Pledges nosedived: In fiscal 1988 they hit $83.5 million; a year later they had sunk to $60 million. CBN was forced to lay off 600 people. Today onscreen duties have been handed over to the more camera-friendly Gordon, but the challenge is still daunting. "Personality-oriented media ministries generally do not last long beyond the death of their founder-leaders," says Quentin Schultze, a religious-media expert and professor of communications at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. "Some religious-media personalities try to usher their offspring into the celebrity fold, almost as a kind of religious monarchy," he notes, citing Oral Roberts, Robert Schuller, and Jimmy Swaggart. "But there is no historical evidence that this kind of monarchical passing of the ministry will be successful."

So a few years ago Robertson began scrambling to build an endowment to make sure his creations can be funded forever. The tricky part was how. A former Robertson lieutenant told the Virginian-Pilot in 1999 that his boss believed the Lord intended that people profit from the vast mineral deposits he put in the earth. Robertson started looking downward for the secret to eternal funding. But if the Lord wanted the preacher to have stakes in nature, he sure wasn't going to make it easy.

The road to Monrovia started in 1997, when Rupert Murdoch, shopping for an outlet for his children's programming, bought Robertson's publicly traded cable operation, IFE, for $1.9 billion in cash. Most of the money went to public shareholders and to John Malone, an early investor in IFE through his Liberty Media. Robertson took home over $400 million. Of that, the preacher received $19 million, Regent $148 million, CBN $136 million, and the Robertson Charitable Remainder Trust--a trust that pays out to CBN in 2010, or at the death of either Robertson or his wife, Dede, whichever comes later--$109 million. CBN and Regent, both nonprofits, quickly put the money to use. The trust's windfall, though, was going to be Robertson's big chance to endow his creations. And two friends came to him with grand plans: The head of Robertson's law school saw riches in a rundown refinery in California (we'll get to that story later). John Gimenez, the pastor of nearby Rock Church, saw riches in a rundown country: Liberia.

In 1997 the West African nation had just emerged from a bloody seven-year civil war that left an estimated 150,000 people dead and 1.9 million without homes or living as refugees in neighboring countries. Its new President, Charles Taylor, a leader of one of the factions, found himself running a country with $2.1 billion in debt and an 85% unemployment rate. Despite Liberia's rich natural resources like iron ore, timber, diamonds, and gold, and its historical ties to America--the country was founded by freed slaves from the U.S. in the mid-1800s--Taylor found it hard to lure Western companies to his land. The problem? For one, Taylor. Like his fellow warlords, Taylor had fought the civil war with a large number of child soldiers; once President, he used his security force to carry out torture, looting, extortion, and "extrajudicial killings," according to the State Department. After Taylor was accused of aiding the brutal Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone by helping to smuggle between $25 million and $125 million of diamonds out each year, both the U.S. and the U.N. slapped sanctions on Liberia.

But Gimenez saw hope in the country. Through a missionary from his church, he came to believe that Liberia, which is about 40% Christian, was getting a bad rap. When some Liberian politicians came to him to find revenue sources for their country, Gimenez knew just where to turn for help. "In something like this, Pat has a real heart to help people," says Gimenez. "[The media] criticize Pat because he's a minister and he's a businessman. But that's what they needed there."

Yet in Liberia there already were Westerners trying to make a buck. For one of them, Robertson's entry proved disastrous.

Since 1978, Ken Ross Jr., a former state legislator in California, had been trying his hand at mining. He'd come to the country at the request of an acquaintance named William Burke, a former campaign worker for California Governor Jerry Brown and the husband of a U.S. Congresswoman. Burke had started a mining company in Liberia in the mid-1970s, but by 1978 he had run out of funds. A wide-eyed entrepreneur, Ross bought a controlling stake in the company that year. In his khaki pants and polo shirts, Ross soon started digging through Burke's concession, looking for his big payoff. He started mining one area, but kept his eye on another part of the concession, located in the remote southeast of Liberia. Ross knew the region, called Bukon Jedeh, was promising: For decades locals had eked out livings sluicing for gold there. But would it support a gold mine? To find out, he provided funds in 1988 for a Ghana-born employee named Isaac Boadi to earn his Ph.D. in geology in the U.S. and, as part of his dissertation, to study the region.

Three years later, what Boadi found were the kind of anomalies in the land that get gold hunters lacing up their boots. He analyzed the various geographies of Bukon Jedeh and found gold just about everywhere possible: in dried-up river streams, alluvial flats, and bedrock. And instead of the usual four parts per billion of gold found in most rock, Boadi found in some places a high of eight parts per million. "I have explored for gold in various places in Africa," says Boadi, now an independent exploration geologist and consultant based in Kumasi, Ghana, "and Bukon Jedeh is [still] one of the most interesting and one of the most prospective places I would look for gold." Ross built an airstrip and started to get the necessary infrastructure to the site. That all came to an abrupt halt in 1990 when civil war broke out.

Though unable to work the site for eight years, Ross stayed in the country. When peace--or peace of a sort--came to Liberia, he turned his attention back to Bukon Jedeh and began trolling for investors. It was at that time that Ross' son, Ken Ross III, says that his dad was approached by Taylor, who asked that he talk to Pat Robertson. Taylor had received a call saying Robertson was looking to put some money into the country. (Ross Jr., who's being treated for stage-four colon cancer in California, couldn't be interviewed.) In late November 1998 it looked as if the two might be able to get together--Ross to mine his land and Robertson to make some cash by investing in it. The preacher sent Ross a ticket and invited him to Virginia for a discussion.

There, far from the burned-out houses and moist air of Liberia, Ross laid out a plan. In a conference room in CBN's studio headquarters, he presented details of Bukon Jedeh, explaining the geology, engineering studies, cash flow, and what he saw as a potential $1 billion cash payout. As Ross talked, a coterie of Robertson advisors--two Liberian politicians, a Liberian-born attorney named Gerald Padmore, and the dean of the Regent law school, J. Nelson Happy--listened intently. The younger Ross says that his dad offered to cut Robertson in for half of the concession as long as Robertson ponied up the $12.5 million necessary to buy out Ross' current partners. Robertson promised he'd get back to Ross in a few days. The next morning, after a night at the Founders Inn, Ross flew back to Liberia expecting to finally get his gold mine running. He never heard from Robertson again.

Padmore, Robertson's attorney in the deal and the managing attorney at Cox Padmore Skolnik & Shakarchy in Denver, remembers the meeting differently. He says Ross suggested that Liberia declare his company in default, cancel his rights to the land, and issue the license to a new company owned jointly by Robertson and Ross. Padmore says that when his group met to talk about Ross' offer, they rejected it almost immediately: "We did not want to be involved in anything that could be seen as defrauding prior investors." (Ross III says that his dad was not offering to bankrupt the company but warning that the government might do so because it was desperate for tax revenues.)

In any event, Ross found his concession revoked the next month. In December 1998 a company called Freedom Gold was created in the Cayman Islands. Its sole owner: the Pat Robertson Charitable Remainder Trust.

By May 1999, Padmore and Freedom Gold's head, a former engineer named Joe Mathews, were sitting down with Charles Taylor in the executive mansion in Monrovia. In Taylor's temporary office, a room covered with heavy curtains concealing bare concrete walls, the three worked out mining agreements. While there was back and forth over wording and tax issues, there was one agreement that Freedom Gold couldn't get out of. Like any other mining operation in Liberia, Freedom Gold would be required to give the government the right to exercise--at no cost--options worth 10% of the company. Robertson's and Taylor's fortunes would now be linked.

To some, it might seem strange that Robertson, a God-fearing man, would do business with Taylor, a man feared as a god in his country. Not to Robertson. "Firestone Tire does business over there, Coca-Cola does business over there," he says. "Nobody criticizes that. It's just because I'm me." Besides, he says, Taylor is misunderstood by the world. "This man Taylor is not the monster everybody makes him out to be. Like most African countries, they don't have the same ethics we might have in this country, but at least they're trying to do something. There is no controversy at all. After this Liberia for Jesus," he says--referring to the three-day prayer-and-fast service in February--"I don't think any right-thinking person can make such claims."

Charles Taylor wasn't the only one to receive options in Freedom Gold. In November 1999, Robertson granted options for about 0.5% of the venture to William Burke, the original owner of the Bukon Jedeh concession, who by then had given up mining and moved on to various civic activities--helping oversee the Los Angeles Olympics, building the L.A. Marathon into a major race, and chairing the state organization in charge of regulating air quality over the L.A. region. Burke says he received the options--worth between $100,001 and $1 million, according to his latest filing with the California Fair Political Practices Commission--as a gift for helping to mollify Ross' original investors.

With the investors against him, his dad in the hospital, and the government no longer on his side, Ken Ross III tried his luck in the Liberian courts. He argued that although his father's 20-year concession for the region had expired, a force majeure clause in the contract enabled him to hold on to it until 2005--making up for the seven years lost during the civil war. In the fall of 1999, the court agreed with Ross. But before he could break out the shovels, the chief justice of Liberia's highest court a week later overturned the decision.The problem: The case was filed in the wrong court and filed too late. "They didn't address the merits of the case at all," says Ross from his home in Grand Rapids.

This wasn't exactly William Rehnquist chewing over issues with his peers. The State Department notes in its most recent human rights report on Liberia that while the constitution delineates three branches, they all serve at Taylor's disposal. "The bicameral legislature exercises little independence from the executive branch," the State Department notes, and "the judiciary is subject to political influence, economic pressure, and corruption." Freedom Gold attorney Padmore says that whatever happened with the case, it was between Ross and the Liberian government: "There was absolutely no involvement by us in this. Zip, zero, none," he says.

As a last-ditch attempt to get the land back, Ross III asked for one final meeting with Robertson's group. In August 2000 Ross sat down with Padmore, Happy, and Freedom Gold head Mathews at the United Red Carpet Club in Washington's Dulles Airport. Ross came with a deal and some news. He'd found a new investor: family friend Rich DeVos, the billionaire co-founder of Amway. Now he wanted to either be given the 28-square-mile piece of land that geologist Boadi had studied back in the late '80s or be paid $5 million to go away. The group rejected both offers, though Ross says Happy did offer to pray for his father. "First you want to screw him, then you want to pray for him?" Ross thought. "What's wrong with this picture?" He walked out of the meeting, cut all contact with Freedom Gold, and started pursuing a new gold mine in Liberia under the name AmLib United Minerals.

Freedom Gold, though, doesn't think Ross is finished trying to wrest away the land. "The best thing that can happen to the Rosses is if we decide to hightail it out of there with all the negative publicity," says Mathews. "Then they just walk in with all of our results and whatever we've done at this point. We're not going to do that. We've taken our hits already."

But in late 2000, just as Robertson seemed finally ready to start mining in Liberia, the other part of his immortality strategy--a much, much larger investment in the U.S.--appeared be imploding.

Take I-5 south out of Los Angeles, and at the edge of Orange County you'll hit the small town of Santa Fe Springs. It's a residential community now, but in the '20s it was home to one of the world's largest oil fields. With oil came a boom; then the industry moved on. Yet the remains of those days can still be seen. Indeed, walk three blocks past Lakeland Elementary School, just down from the South Fulton Village senior citizens' center, and there, near a trailer-home park, sits the old Powerine oil refinery, its rusting towers jutting into the air. Its owner: the Pat Robertson Charitable Remainder Trust.

In 1998, just before Robertson met with Gimenez to talk about investing in Liberia, Regent law school dean Happy approached his boss with the idea of buying Powerine. The plant had been shuttered in the mid-1990s, but Happy--a former corporate lawyer with experience in the oil industry--convinced Robertson that for a $20 million initial investment, he could restart the plant, run it right, and pump out profits of $70 million to $100 million a year. The resale value alone, Happy figured, could be worth close to $1 billion. That August, Robertson took out his checkbook, buying Powerine, a plant once owned by Rothschild Oil, and renamed it Cenco Refining, short for Creative Energy Co.

Happy, shuttling between California and Virginia Beach, had worked out the economics. But what he didn't count on was the community response. The old Powerine refinery was despised in Santa Fe Springs. While residents weren't thrilled about the eyesore of the rusting facility, they preferred it to what they used to deal with: irritated eyes, breathing issues, and strange oil patches that at times coated their cars. When Powerine was running, it earned the distinction of having the worst air-quality record and highest number of public complaints of all refineries in the Los Angeles area.

So residents were surprised when they discovered that Robertson had received clearance to open the plant without going through the public process of obtaining hard-to-get air-quality permits. The California government arm that regulated the region--the South Coast Air Quality Management District--declared that Powerine's old permits were still valid, despite the refinery's having been out of operation for years. The chairman of that board: the very same William Burke, who by 1999 found himself with an unexercised stake in Freedom Gold. A conflict of interest? Not at all, says Burke, who insists his hands were tied in regard to the plant. "When Pat Robertson acquired Cenco Refinery, he had a letter from the district long before I was ever there, which assured the new owner that all the permits would be reissued," he says. "He and I have never spoken directly about any Cenco issue. He always dealt through lawyers." Plus, Burke insists, he's since donated his Freedom Gold options to a charity associated with his L.A. Marathon.

Within months of Cenco's creation, a California environmental group called Communities for a Better Environment started calling town hall meetings in the working-class neighborhood and prepared for a fight. In May 2000, CBE sued Cenco, alleging violations of the Clean Air Act and the California equivalent. That same month, the California Division of Labor sued Cenco for its failure to pay severance to Powerine's old employees. Those weren't Cenco's only judicial problems: The state also sued for hazardous-waste violations, the city of Santa Fe Springs for other hazardous-waste violations, and the Environmental Protection Agency for air concerns. Soon even Robertson's lawyers were joining the act, alleging that Robertson had stopped paying their bills. (Cenco says it plans to countersue one law firm and settle with the other.)

By last year it was clear that even with the air permits, Happy's investment was draining CBN's endowment, not enriching it. According to a declaration of Cenco's controller taken for the CBE case, Cenco's overhead operating costs by last fall were about $325,000 a month. Throw in the 8% interest it was paying on loans, and the carrying costs soared to $485,000 a month. Robertson had had enough. By November, Happy--the former dean and Robertson confidant--was gone. Robertson replaced him with investment head Morse. "Things would have gone differently," say Morse, "had Pat had the right guy running it. Period."

Cut through all the legal wrangling, and an interesting fact emerges: So far Robertson's investments in God's earth have been disasters.

Freedom Gold has yet to produce a penny of revenue, despite having possibly burned through more than $8 million. While the company's initial results confirmed what geologist Boadi knew all along--that there was gold in the land--Mathews isn't sure how to mine it in an economical way, or even if it's possible. The initial crew of more than 150 spent the first few months setting up a camp and digging ten-foot-deep holes in a 3.5-square-mile block of the 560-square-mile claim. Then they washed samples by hand--a method that allowed much of the gold to slip away and thwarted any attempt to make an estimate of the total gold in the land. Now Mathews is trying to bring in drills from the U.S. to Monrovia, then from there to Bukon Jedeh. As with most things in Liberia, the logistics are nightmarish. So until they arrive, he's trying other methods to get to the gold: letting workers with short picks corkscrew their way into the earth and even selling rice to locals in exchange for information about where they've found gold.

"Right now the directive to me is to keep costs to a minimum," says Mathews, who hopes to get a mining operation started by mid-2004. William Burke, however, continues to hold out hope: "I'm the guy who discovered this stuff. I know it's there," he says. "I went out there and worked seven years of my life, so I know it's there."

In even worse shape is the dream of the $100-million-a-year refinery. After spending close to $80 million trying to get Cenco up and running, Robertson appears to be giving up. "I'm telling you," he says, "it's California, it's environmental, it is just a nightmare." Morse's new plan is to parcel off the land into "what I hope is the finest industrial park in all of Santa Fe Springs." So far, though, Morse has been able to sell only 22 acres, for $10 million.

All told, the Robertson Charitable Remainder Trust has burned through an estimated $78 million of its $109 million starting funds--a loss of 72% of the capital, with no return. The big bets, so far, have been big failures. Still, Robertson isn't writing off Liberia yet.

But what if eventually he does, leaving CBN with donations and little more to rely on once Robertson dies? Schultze, the televangelism expert, theorizes that Regent would probably be able to stand alone. Its endowment stands at $300 million, thanks to its share of the IFE payoff. He's less sanguine about the hopes for CBN, the TV network that started it all and still carries Robertson's words on a daily basis.

Robertson knows the score. In the 1995 epilogue to his autobiography, Shout It From the Housetops!, he wrote that the loss of funds during his presidential bid made him realize that "my retirement some day in the future could have a similar impact on the ministry I loved." The IFE trust, he wrote, was a way to "undergird CBN's future finances." Now, with that trust drastically reduced, he insists that CBN's strong management team should be able to carry on just fine on its own.

"My son Gordon has taken over more and more of the on-air role, as well the Internet operation and the overseas operation, and he has got a real heart for it," says Robertson, sitting in a stately wing-backed chair in his office. The room, with its dark wood paneling and collection of memorabilia from Robertson's decades in politics, looks as if it were designed to one day be a museum piece. "I think if I were to pass off the scene in a few years, I think that we've got enough strength in various positions that that wouldn't be any problem." Besides, it's not too late to keep investing. "I'm by nature an entrepreneur, unfortunately," he laughs. "I like to start businesses and start things."

In mid-April, Morse, a former real estate developer, revealed that CBN had the perfect new idea: convert part of the land Robertson's empire sits on into a center similar to the Stanford Research Park in California. "The long-term annuity for CBN will be real estate residuals," he says. "It hasn't been announced yet, but when I see it, I drool. There's some good stuff there."