Days after the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, a Kentucky pastor declared a “curse” on “those that have stolen” the 2020 election from former President Trump. “I curse you with weakness in your body, I curse you with poverty, I curse you with the worst year you’ve ever had, in the name of the Lord,” said Bob Rodgers of Evangel World Prayer Center in a sermon that went viral.
But the Louisville preacher himself was about to have a bad year. This week, he was embroiled in a civil trial in Jefferson County, accused of aiding a scheme that allegedly bilked hundreds of thousands of dollars from the estate of an elderly California woman and helped enrich his megachurch’s cemetery and Christian confidants. On Thursday, the case was settled.
One plaintiff’s lawyer told The Daily Beast the terms of the settlement are confidential. Evangel declined to comment when reached Thursday afternoon.
For three years, Rodgers and other members of his flock were embroiled in a legal war over the millions that Ruth Hugh left beneficiaries, including televangelist Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), when she died at 92.
Hugh had no children or surviving relatives and lived in San Diego’s affluent La Jolla neighborhood, in a $5 million-plus home with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. One estate document says the Kentucky native was once an antiques dealer and wanted Sotheby’s or Christie’s to sell off her valuables. Her death certificate indicates that she was divorced and last worked as an administrator in electronics manufacturing.
And the Louisville Courier-Journal, which first chronicled the convoluted case, reported that Hugh loved TV ministries and had initially promised CBN more than 40 percent of her wealth.
But two ministries in the Bluegrass State allegedly devised their own plans to get a cut of Hugh’s fortune. According to a civil suit reviewed by The Daily Beast, Pastor Rodgers convinced the ailing Hugh—who had Parkinson’s disease and was on her deathbed—to buy a massive mausoleum at his Crosswater Gardens Cemetery for more than $250,000.
Rodgers and his son-in-law are also accused of double-billing Hugh’s trust for their first-class airfare and expensive hotel stays while visiting her weeks before her death.
This alleged misspending was possible, the complaint suggests, because of Rodgers’ longtime friend and fellow Trump-lover Jackie Yockey, who became the executor of Hugh’s trust and estate a month before Hugh died. At the time, Yockey was president of High Adventure Ministries, which broadcasts Christian programming in Israel and hosts trips there.
Like Rodgers, she’s also publicly supported Trump, captured video at one of his local rallies, and in December 2020 shared a Facebook post from the GOP politician that read: “If somebody cheated in the Election, which the Democrats did, why wouldn’t the Election be immediately overturned? How can a Country be run like this?”
Yockey also posted audio from South African pastor Kim Clement where in 2007 he seemingly foretells Trump’s presidency by repeating: “Trump shall become a trumpet.”
“What is in the Number 45?” Yockey wrote in March 2017, days after becoming Hugh’s trustee. “High Adventure/Voice of Hope celebrating 45 years broadcasting in Israel. We have a President who is number 45. Some say he is a Cyrus, Isaiah 45.”
The 86-year-old Yockey couldn’t be reached for comment. But according to court papers, she challenged Rodgers and his staff on the “excessiveness” of the eight-person mausoleum they sold Hugh. In response, they “put her on the defensive in a spiritually condescending way and made her out to be a cheapskate and ungodly.”
An attorney for Yockey’s son, who is also a defendant in the case, said he believes Yockey is being “hung out to dry” for an unintended financial mistake.
The civil trial arose from a lawsuit CBN filed against Yockey in January 2019, in which the company accused her of repeatedly brushing aside their requests for a detailed accounting of the Hugh Trust’s assets, liabilities, and disbursements.
That December, a court-appointed trustee joined CBN’s litigation and filed a complaint adding Rodgers, his son-in-law Rex Nichols, an Evangel employee, and other defendants. (A Jefferson Circuit Court judge removed Yockey as trustee after she sold Hugh’s mansion for less than it was worth, saying she acted in a “self-serving manner,” the Courier-Journal reported.)
“In the spring of 2017, Ruth Hugh was not in good health,” the complaint states, adding that Yockey met Hugh about 20 years ago. “Hugh needed round-the-clock care, and her time was drawing near. Having received word of Hugh’s condition, Yockey traveled to San Diego.”
“High Adventure hired and paid a California attorney to draft changes to Ms. Hugh’s estate planning documents while Yockey was in California,” the filing adds.
The complaint says that in the weeks before Hugh died, others affiliated with Evangel and High Adventure flew to San Diego to be at the multimillionaire’s bedside, too. Nichols met with Hugh “immediately before” she signed estate planning documents, the lawsuit alleges, and each time “traveled first class” and “stayed at expensive and exclusive hotels.” Rodgers joined Nichols on one of these junkets, also flying first class and staying at a $450-per-night hotel.
Evangel claimed Frances Foster, an assistant minister at Rodgers’ church, stayed with and cared for Hugh in the weeks before she died. They later sent Hugh’s trust bills for work dates “before and after her death,” despite Hugh already having a local in-home caretaker.
Yockey wrote a $39,000 check to Foster for allegedly caring for Hugh. In July 2017, Yockey wrote herself an email memorializing this purported agreement: “PARKINSON SPECIALIST NURSE and related duties. AGREEMENT PAY HER 24 hours per day $480 per day plus $50 per diem until Ruth H. Hugh passed away. Flew out March 5, 2017 through April 23, 2017, total of 50. $39,000 total.”
The lawsuit points out that Hugh died on April 7, 2017 and that “Yockey paid Foster to provide nursing care for Hugh for 16 days after Hugh died.”
CBN and the court-appointed trustee also raised questions about other payments. On the night Hugh died, Yockey shipped unknown items of Hugh’s to Kentucky at a cost of $1,000; Yockey again spent $2,000 on shipping items from San Diego three days later.
And despite an appraiser valuing the philanthropist’s home at $5.8 million, Yockey sold the home in June 2017 for $700,000 less.
Once the house was sold, Yockey wrote a $16,682 check to pay High Adventure’s travel expenses for multiple employees, as well as attorneys’ fees for Hugh’s latest estate planning documents. The broadcast ministry requested reimbursement for meals, hotel rooms, alcohol, rental cars, fuel, and cash per-diems of at least $50 for each employee.
Court records show Yockey wrote a second check to Rodgers for $3,366 to reimburse him for his and his son-in-law Nichols’ airfare, and a third to Nichols for $4,785. “On his first trip to visit Ms. Hugh, Nichols stayed for one night at the upscale La Valencia Hotel and spent his second night at the five star Spa at Grand Del Mar,” the complaint says.
Instead of flying back to Louisville, Nichols and Rodgers got first-class tickets to Dallas, where Nichols lives with his wife and has business interests. The men stayed at a hotel for $300 per room per night, and billed Hugh’s trust for these expenses.
According to the lawsuit, Rodgers and Nichols sent Yockey invoices for many of the same expenses, and Yockey and her employees knew that the men were “paid twice” but didn’t attempt to obtain reimbursement from them or their church.
The complaint alleges Rodgers, Yockey and Nichols were especially keen on visiting Hugh to sell a mausoleum for over a quarter-million dollars—despite Hugh signing a medical power of attorney seven months earlier indicating wanted to be buried in San Diego County.
“Ms. Hugh’s stated desires did not suit the plans or tastes of Yockey, Pastor Rodgers, or Nichols, so they all went to San Diego to convince her to do something that benefited their church’s cemetery,” the suit adds.
Emails included in exhibits appear to show Yockey felt pressure to make payment.
In one May 2017 message to Evangel and Crosswater Gardens’ business manager Darlene Miller, Yockey wrote, “I am honoring the last request by Ruth Hugh with Pastor Rodgers to cover all these costs. Also, I will happily reimburse the $30,000 for Frances Foster. Darlene, this is not possible until the sale of the house and I am working to expedite that ASAP.”
Yockey wrote in a followup email: “Please pray with me that it sells quickly.”
A month later, Yockey wrote to Miller, “Money cometh. Invoices needed. 250K.”
The administrator sent Yockey a bill for $251,112 the next day, and according to the lawsuit, Yockey paid this “invoice against the advice of legal counsel.” The complaint alleges the cemetery charged the trust $194,145 for a granite mausoleum that cost Crosswater Gardens $84,748 and pocketed the difference.
Meanwhile, Yockey is accused of withdrawing $430,000 in trust funds for herself and her son Jeffrey Mitchum, who was not a beneficiary of the trust.
Joshua Irvine, an attorney for Mitchum, told The Daily Beast that he received more than $200,000 from High Adventure for artwork he created for the ministry’s Israel center; Mitchum, a landscape photographer, didn’t know which account payment was coming from or whether High Adventure had properly authorized those transactions, Irvine said.
“He believed he’d been commissioned to do certain artwork and art books they could use for their missionary work and fundraising,” Irvine said. “That’s what he believed he was being compensated for.” Irvine added that Mitchum offered years ago to repay the money he had received but settlements in the case were rejected.
Irvine said that Mitchum believes his mother, who is in her 80s, was made a scapegoat in this situation because she didn’t understand the intricacies of business matters.
“The way I see it, Pastor Rodgers had some responsibility to oversee the board,” Irvine continued. “He was an advisor. Either he ignored it because he was just negligent or he knew about it and didn’t care at the time because he had some other interests.”
Still, the Courier-Journal reported that Yockey spent some of the trust money on a Las Vegas beauty parlor, plastic surgery in Nashville, and Broadway tickets to The Lion King.
The details of Yockey’s and Hugh’s relationship also remain unclear.
Exhibits in the case show that a 2013 amendment and reinstatement of Hugh’s living trust listed Carolyn Mitchum as successor trustee. (Carolyn was Yockey’s daughter-in-law and Mitchum’s wife. Carolyn once joined Yockey on a High Adventure TV show, during which Yockey described her daughter-in-law as her "best friend." Carolyn died in 2016. Irvine, Mitchum’s attorney, told The Daily Beast that Carolyn may have helped Hugh at Yockey’s request, since she and Mitchum lived in California.)
The 2013 document left 50 percent of Hugh’s estate to CBN and 25 percent to High Adventure Ministries, while a third updated trust filing from around January 2017 left CBN 42 percent of Hugh’s wealth and nothing to High Adventure, the lawsuit alleges.
In March 2017, when Yockey became the executor of the trust, Hugh had allegedly agreed to leave 33 percent of her estate to CBN and 33 percent to High Adventure.
For his part, Rodgers was a board member of High Adventure for years, after convincing Yockey to move her business to Kentucky more than a decade ago. The complaint says he helped run Yockey’s ministry with her sister and his daughter, among others.
Rodgers and other Evangel defendants have said the pending legal controversy has unfairly targeted them for Yockey’s alleged breaches.
The Courier-Journal reported that Rodgers, through a lawyer, said he’s “spent a significant portion of his life providing spiritual guidance and prayer for nearly anyone that asked.”
Hugh, Rodgers claims, had asked for him to give “prayer and comfort in person during her final weeks of life.”