Pat Robertson’s Operation Blessing Scam

Pat Robertson and his followers make a big deal about Operation Blessing, his longtime charity wing that makes all kinds of claims about all the good things they do. Critics have long accused him of using that charity to further his financial investments, especially in African mining. A new documentary provides evidence for those criticisms, like how they use images of charity efforts that don’t involve them to make it look like they’re doing all the important work:

One of the stranger sights of the refugee crisis that followed the 1994 Rwandan genocide was of stretcher-bearers rushing the dying to medical tents, with men running alongside reciting Bible verses to the withering patients.

The bulk of the thousands of doctors and nurses struggling to save lives – as about 40,000 people died of cholera – were volunteers for the international medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The Bible readers were hired by the American televangelist and former religious right presidential candidate, Pat Robertson, and his aid organisation, Operation Blessing International.

But on Robertson’s US television station, the Christian Broadcasting Network, that reality was reversed, as he raised millions of dollars from loyal followers by claiming Operation Blessing was at the forefront of the international response to the biggest refugee crisis of the decade. It’s a claim he continues to make, even though an official investigation into Robertson’s operation in Virginia accused him of “fraudulent and deceptive” claims when he was running an almost non-existent aid operation…

“It was the most important first medical shipment on the scene out of everything,” he said of one aid delivery as he appealed for donations.

In another broadcast, Robertson said Operation Blessing was saving thousands of lives.

“The death toll in this particular camp went down to almost zero because of our people being there,” he said.

Robertson claimed that Operation Blessing sent plane-loads of doctors.

“These are tents set up with our doctors and our medical teams that came from here to work as hard as they could to save lives,” Robertson said over pictures of a large tent of children on drips being tended by nurses and doctors.

But the film was of MSF medical staff at work. Operation Blessing had just one tent and a total of seven doctors.

And how those charity trips were used to transport mining equipment rather than doctors:

Robert Hinkle, the chief pilot for Operation Blessing in Zaire in 1994, said he received new orders. “They began asking me: can we haul a thousand-pound dredge over? I didn’t know what the dredging deal was about,” he said.

The documentary describes how dredges, used to suck up diamonds from river beds, were delivered hundreds of miles from the crisis in Goma to a private commercial firm, African Development Company, registered in Bermuda and wholly owned by Robertson. ADC held a mining concession near the town of Kamonia on the far side of the country.

“Mission after mission was always just getting eight-inch dredgers, six-inch dredgers … and food supplies, quads, jeeps, out to the diamond dredging operation outside of Kamonia,” Hinkle told the film-makers.

The pilot said he joined Operation Blessing to help people. Of the 40 flights he flew into Congo, just two delivered aid. The others were associated with the diamond mining. “We’re not doing anything for those people,” he said. “After several months I was embarrassed to have Operation Blessing on the airplane’s tail.”

Just another TV evangelist scam.

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  • Alverant

    This is my surprised face: o_o

  • Abby Normal

    If you don’t feel like watching the documentary, South Park, season 3, ep. 13, “Starvin Marvin in Space” covers much of the same territory.

  • A televangelist and noted Republican basically stealing from the credulous to increase his own bottom line?

    Imagine my surprise. o_O

    (Love the emote, Alverant.)

  • matty1

    So why is Pat Robertson not on trial or already convicted?

  • Alverant

    Here’s my prediction. Patty will raise a huff and go on about persecution and slander and threaten legal action, but nothing will come of it. The instant his lawyers do anything, he’ll have to prove the film was wrong and he can’t do that. Since he can’t prove the film lied that would put his charity under the legal microscope because he legally challenged the film which will lead to more problems for him.

  • TGAP Dad

    The tragic angle to this story, is that this information has been known since the 90s – I heard about it from email newsletters from American Atheists in the aftermath of the O’Hair murders – but is only now getting picked up in the mass market press. Neglecting the opportunity to conduct a proper investigation has cost his credulous followers untold millions, and supported the blood diamond trade.

  • Alverant@5:

    We’ve already passed the “rant and threaten legal action” stage.

    It’s a bluff. The last thing Crazy Uncle Pat wants is to put his scam under the microscope of a trial.

  • grumpyoldfart

    Even if his family decide to kick him to curb, they’ll keep all the money.

  • It does look as though things have changed somewhat for the better at OB since the early noughties. Pat Robertson is still an asshole, and always will be, but it seems that he has little, if any real control over how the money is spent these days. In fact, according their tax forms, a large majority of OB donations are given “in kind” — i.e. goods and services, not cash. CBN only gave $15 million to them in 2010 (out of over $400 million total income).

    However, there is little doubt that Robertson uses OB to help raise funds for his own uses (at CBN, etc.) since even when they show footage of OB’s work on their telethons, there’s absolutely no promise that the money raised will go to OB, and the odds are that it almost certainly won’t.

  • exdrone

    Don’t underestimate what it takes to be a combat bible readers. You have to live in austere conditions, be in good physical condition, be able to read on the run and, most importantly, be resilient enough to withstand all the real care-providers yelling at you to get out of the f*cking way and start doing some G-D real work.

  • otrame



    exdrone, we are all adults or near adults. The practice of using a * to pretend that you aren’t saying fuck is fucking childish. It does not even fail to offend those who are offended by such language, assuming that is your reason for doing so. If you are squeamish about using fuck, there is nothing wrong with that, but if so, just don’t say it. If you want to use the word, then please just use the damned word.

    As for the G-d…. That is not now you spell God. Refusing to use the correct word is part of the superstitious belief that a god will be offended if he/she/it is referred to directly. Are you that superstitious?

    And I know I am being unnecessarily critical. Usually I ignore such things, though they always annoy me. You were just the unlucky git who did it when I am in a rotten mood.

  • cheesynougats

    What I find somewhat sad is the pilot, who probably was spurred by his Christian faith to help people, wasn’t really able to help.

    Stay classy, Pat.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    otrame @ 11

    My eyes bounced off that G_D as well. Rather than the G_d of Judaism, the sentence only makes sense if it is supposed to be a euphemism for ‘God Damned’.

    Suffering from SIWOTI here, too.