Excerpts from Larry Rice's past: Homeless activist leaves trail of headlines

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Television preacher Larry Rice, who has applied to turn the old federal building in Cape Girardeau into a homeless shelter, certainly has a way with words. On one day he's telling viewers on his TV channel that his religious work is in dire need of money and implores them to go onto his website and contribute.

"I can't stress how critical your involvement is at this time with the literally thousands of dollars worth of bills that are coming due."

On another day, more quietly, he's stressing the financial strength of his organization, because the appearance of financial capability helps him in his quest to receive (large) buildings free from the government.

Whether he's saying he's poor and doesn't receive a paycheck, or whether he's boasting about leading a worldwide organization with $40 million in assets, it really just depends on what Rice's purpose is at the time. But in each case, he sure can deliver a line.

Of course, Rice's most effective turn of phrase is deflecting any disagreement with him into an attack upon "the homeless." This intimidates many people, who don't want to appear heartless. It also revs up those with a Christian heart, who take people at their word. But it's just a tactic -- the same any dishonest politician would use. He doesn't actually answer the criticism.

Rice's second most effective rhetorical tactic is elevating homelessness into a protected class like race, national origin, sex, religion, age etc. To say anything negative about his homeless operation is to be a bigot, a racist, anti-veteran, un-Christian or whatever nuance is most damaging.

I'm sure Rice does many good things. His Thanksgiving and Christmas meals in St. Louis, serving thousands of people, clearly serve a need. Some of his shelters provide important services -- and there are folks who appreciate his efforts.

For the rest of this column, however, I will be providing some context about the Rev. Larry Rice and his organization, which doesn't align with the image he likes to portray, especially as he appeals to the federal government for a 47,000-square-foot building in the heart of downtown Cape Girardeau to create a regional homeless shelter that local service agents to the homeless call "misguided" and "delusional."

These excerpts don't address the need (or lack thereof) for such a homeless shelter, because that has already been debunked. They also for the most part don't cover Rice's political machinations or penchant for litigation. These are simply articles that highlight the difference between how Larry Rice talks, and how his organization and he too often walk.

The stories below do not represent an exhaustive list. There is much, much more that could be printed. The articles, which appear in excerpted form from legitimate news organizations -- not blogs -- are printed in chronological order. But I skipped over many earlier stories to focus on the past few years.

Note: Crime stories are included when they reflect directly upon management of the facilities that Larry Rice runs.

Life as a landlord is tough these days

May 24, 2001

Columbia Daily Tribune

Ask Larry Rice.

Yes, that Larry Rice. The Rev. Larry Rice. The televangelist-turned-gubernatorial-candidate who has joined local activist and do-gooder Mary Hussman in berating the landlords of Columbia's evicted trailer park residents.

Turns out Rice is a landlord, too.

And last Friday in Callaway County Circuit Court, Rice the Landlord filed eviction papers against one of his renters. ...

Rice has made a living -- and a good one at that -- making a mockery of [businessmen and landlords]. His New Life Evangelistic Center, based in New Bloomfield, has become a conglomerate boasting television stations, land holdings and millions of dollars in assets, according to various published reports. ...

Rice's own trailer park is a hodgepodge of beat-up trailers, abandoned cars, weeds up to your knees and a four-plex apartment building in the shadow of New Life's television tower south of New Bloomfield. ...

Of course, Rice the Minister points out that once he evicts his apartment dwellers, he'd gladly reach out to them at one of his homeless shelters. "If they get evicted and they come to us for shelter, we'd probably help them," he says.

Fire damages St. Louis shelter for homeless

March 8, 2002

Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- A fire that damaged a downtown homeless shelter was intentionally set, investigators said Thursday. ...

The center is run by the Rev. Larry Rice, a longtime activist for the poor and homeless.

St. Louis bomb and arson investigators were looking for a disgruntled homeless man who was turned away from the shelter Wednesday night. ...

Fire officials said the building had several code violations.

Shelter worker accused of raping teen

Aug. 11, 2006

The Joplin Globe

A 38-year-old man who works at a local church's free store and men's shelter, and who lives on the premises, is being charged with raping a 15-year-old girl early Thursday at the church, police said. ...

[The] assistant director of the New Life Evangelistic Center based in St. Louis, said [the man] was a trainee in the organization's two-year training program for people who are homeless.

Minister acknowledges shelter violates city ordinance

Dec. 9, 2006

Jefferson City News Tribune

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A minister who is sheltering homeless people at a Springfield shop says he is choosing the work of God over the law of the land.

The Rev. Larry Rice, director of the New Life Evangelistic Center and Free Store, clashed with city officials this week over more than a dozen homeless people housed in the store.

Rice acknowledged the arrangement violates the city's building codes but said he was "doing what Christ called me to do. I'm not doing this to upset anybody or anything else," Rice said.

Chain saw attack fans fears of plans for Springfield homeless shelter

Jan. 22, 2008

Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The weekend chain saw attack at a central Missouri homeless shelter has fueled opposition by parents of a similar facility being proposed by the shelter's founder near a Springfield high school.

Matthew Watkins, 28, has been charged with four counts of first-degree assault and armed criminal action after authorities said he attacked two men with a chain saw and two others with a knife. The attack happened Saturday at Mid-America Care Center in New Bloomfield, about 125 miles northeast of Springfield. ...

The shelter is affiliated with the New Life Evangelistic Center and connected with Christian television station KNLJ, run by the Rev. Larry Rice.

Director: Shelter critics act as Nazis

Feb. 28, 2008

Springfield News-Leader

The controversy over a homeless veterans center near Central High School heightened Wednesday when a spokesman for the shelter compared critics of the program to "Hitler and his henchmen."

Hank Zeniewicz, director for the Veterans Coming Home Program to be run by the New Life Evangelistic Center, wrote Wednesday morning to the News-Leader, comparing resolutions passed by local government leaders opposing the center to actions by Nazis decades ago. ...

The center is to be located just south of the high school in a former Social Security building granted to the Rev. Larry Rice of New Life. Problems at some of his other facilities have included a chain saw attack, allegations of sexual assault and a fatal stabbing. ...

"The inflammatory response using such horrible references to Hitler just shows how desperate they are," City Councilman Gary Deaver said.

He also said Rice is out to perpetuate his own empire.

"They have multimillion-dollar contracts -- this is a big business for them," Deaver said. "I don't think most people realize there can be a big business component to serving the homeless."

In his letter to the News-Leader, Zeniewicz also said: "We learn, if we are intelligent enough and honest enough not to try to rewrite history, exactly where this led. We have only to look as far as the national Holocaust Memorial in Washington, D.C., to see what the cost of these actions were for far too many people."

He ended his letter with: "How long will it be before the Mayor, the City Council, the County Commission and the Schoolboard [sic] all start demanding that we say, 'Sieg Heil?'"

Larry Rice Ministries

May 6, 2008

KTVI TV St. Louis

Twelve-hour shifts with just one day off a week is a grueling work schedule for employees at a local television station for Larry Rice Ministries. The employees don't get a paycheck.

We looked behind the scenes of Larry Rice's TV station. Hidden on a mountain top outside rural House Springs, Mo. -- we found homeless people running the transmitter site -- unpaid and unsupervised. They now stay in a trailer on the property and work for free. They work six days a week in 12-hour shifts. They told us their only compensation -- $25 a week in groceries plus a place to sleep. ...

Larry Rice told us, "A paycheck does not solve people's problems." ...

According to the Missouri Department of Labor, minimum wage laws do apply to non-profit programs like Larry Rice's. But he is not required to pay volunteers. Representatives for his ministry say their workers are in fact volunteers.

Opponents of center cite St. Louis assault

Oct. 15, 2008

Springfield News-Leader

Opponents of a center for homeless veterans said Tuesday that a recent attack on a worker at a St. Louis homeless shelter is an example of why they tried to prevent a similar facility from opening here.

The assault happened Thursday at the New Life Evangelistic Center in St. Louis when Virginia Shelley, 67, a former homeless woman turned supervisor at the shelter, was beaten by 28-year-old Pamela Fraction. ...

It was the third violent attack at a New Life facility this year.

"This most recent attack confirms what we've been saying to the public all along -- people aren't safe in those facilities," said Mary Byrne, who opposes Rice's facility for homeless veterans being located near Central High School in Springfield. "Larry Rice does not have the qualifications or the staff to appropriately provide intervention for these people or security for the surrounding neighborhoods."

Opening statements likely in rape trials

Dec. 16, 2008

Associated Press

Opening statements are expected today in the jury trial of a former New Life Evangelistic Free Store volunteer accused of raping a woman at the Commercial Street facility, which at the time was being used illegally as a homeless shelter.

WARNING: The following news report contains graphic descriptions of sodomy and assault.

It is included because it highlights risks about Larry Rice facilities: 1. A supervisor/manager is directly involved. 2. The operation itself flaunted government rules and was not approved (something Rice boasts about when he established it. 3. The entire environment of the operation -- as indicated by defense testimony -- is deplorable: drinking, sex, no safety precautions or oversight.

Rape trial opens with 2 versions of incident

Dec. 18, 2008

Springfield News-Leader

Attorneys described in graphic detail two versions of Jan. 5, 2007, during opening statements Wednesday in the trial of a man accused of raping a woman at a makeshift homeless shelter.

Darin Robinson -- charged with forcible sodomy and first-degree assault -- was working as a manager for the New Life Evangelistic Center and Free Store when prosecutors allege he raped and injured a 39-year-old woman.

But Public Defender Peter Bender said Robinson and the victim had a relationship that included frequent sex and that he didn't know how she suffered significant injuries that night.

In his opening statements, Bender addressed the mostly female jury as though he was Robinson.

He said Robinson and the victim drank a lot of alcohol and had consensual sex the night of the alleged rape.

Robinson woke up around 3 a.m., he said, and approached the victim to continue the night's activities when he discovered that she was bleeding from a large laceration where she'd been sodomized.

"I still don't (know what happened)," Bender said, speaking as Robinson. "It's possible that I did it. I was so drunk.

"If she'd said stop, I'd have stopped. If she'd have said, 'this hurts,' I'd have stopped."

Prosecutor Casey Clark said the victim told police she had been involved with Robinson consensually on only two occasions.

On Jan. 5, 2007, the victim said, she went into Robinson's office at the free store and had her face slammed into the wall. Her next memory was of being in the hospital, Clark said.

It was Robinson who called 911 after the victim's injuries were discovered.

Jurors listened to the tape, in which Robinson cries and tells the dispatcher that he doesn't know what happened and that he had been told that the victim had been with multiple men earlier that day.

When police arrived on the scene, Clark said, Robinson was shirtless and wearing pajama pants and blood-soaked socks. His hands, face and back were covered with blood, Clark said.

Blood was later discovered on Robinson's genitals, Clark said.

Robinson told police officers multiple versions of the events surrounding the rape, Clark said.

Bender said his client slept next to the victim that night and didn't doubt that it was her blood that police discovered on his socks and body.

The incident happened when the New Life Evangelistic Center, run by the Rev. Larry Rice, was allowing homeless people to sleep in the free store on Commercial Street.

This final entry is not an excerpt from a news report. Instead, it comes from a printed sermon that Larry Rice uses for Bible study and training.

Journey into God's Word

Study Guide

By Larry Rice

Those who crucified Jesus said he was an extremist. Believers today, who have died to themselves and have been resurrected unto Jesus Christ, to the extent that what touches His heart also touches theirs, are also called extremists. Lillian Smith, in her speech on the first anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycotts, declared, "for all America to see that in times of crisis, only the extremist can meet the challenge. The question in crisis is not: Are you going to be an extremist? The question is: What kind of extremist are you going to be? The time has come when it is dangerous not to risk. We must take risks in order to save our integrity, our moral nature, our lives and our country."

Online Update

I'd like to update one item in the column above: the value of Larry Rice and NLEC assets. According to its web site, assets are no longer at or above $40 million. Here is what NLEC says, citing a 2007 audit.

"As reported in NLEC's 2007 independent audit, the ministry now has just under $5.35 million in total assets as of December 31, 2007.

"Part of the discrepancy in figures here owes to the fact that this initial $40+ million estimate -- made in a 2004 document in conjunction with NLEC attorneys -- is largely outdated. This estimated sum reflected a more positive potential market value of NLEC media equipment and property; e.g., what all NLEC equipment and property could have potentially sold for in 2004. In hindsight, this estimate was likely too high to begin with, the falling market trends in the years since notwithstanding. Moreover, since 2004 NLEC -- like many nonprofit charities -- has come upon difficult financial times and has had to respond to slackening sources of revenue. With this in mind, NLEC has since sold six free stores, five homeless shelters, one full analog television station, and 3 radio stations, with the funds from these sales going directly to the maintenance and upkeep of the remaining NLEC centers and its programs for the poor and homeless." -- New Life Evangelistic Center

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