Arthur Andersen again promises $217 million—but will bilked investors really get it?
"Arthur Andersen's on-again, off-again $217 million settlement with investors in the Baptist Foundation of Arizona (BFA) scandal is on again," reports The Arizona Republic. On March 1, the accounting firm promised to pay the same $217 million to those hurt by the church-sponsored real estate Ponzi scheme, then backed out of it by the end of the month. Now, a week into a new trial, Andersen offered the figure again.

"This is the best deal possible for investors, and it's likely to get money in their pockets," said Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano.

But is it really? The Wall Street Journal doubts it. "The new settlement by no means assures that the 11,000 Baptist Foundation investors—who lost an estimated $570 million—will recoup significant portions of their losses," the paper reported yesterday (the article is available only to online subscribers).

The worst-case scenario for Baptist Foundation investors would be if Andersen were convicted this month in the criminal case [over its audits of Enron], then quickly filed for bankruptcy-court protection before ever injecting new capital into its technically insolvent Bermuda insurance carrier, which for the time being remains unable to pay or approve claims.
In that scenario, it would be difficult at best for plaintiffs in the Phoenix case to reach Andersen's assets or those of its Bermuda insurer to collect on the latest settlement pledge. However, with the Phoenix trial scheduled to last well into July, Baptist Foundation investors likely would have been in an even worse position from which to collect anything from Andersen if the civil trial proceeded and the firm filed for bankruptcy protection before the jury in the case reached a verdict.

It's a pretty good deal for Andersen. The settlement effectively ends the accounting firm's chapter in one of the largest fraud cases of its kind. "In addition to settling the case brought by the foundation's bankruptcy trust, the latest agreement would resolve a civil lawsuit brought by the Arizona attorney general's office, a separate class-action case filed by aggrieved foundation investors, and a state administrative proceeding by Arizona accountancy regulators," the Journal reports. Don Martin, one of Andersen's attorneys, tells the Republic, "Arthur Andersen was able to put all of the Baptist Foundation issues behind it, but I am frustrated we were not able to tell the rest of the story."

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But the story isn't over for the investors. Settlement negotiations continue with the BFA's law firm, and the bankruptcy trust has yet to sell all of the BFA's assets.

Still, the duped investors are wary. "We felt good the first time," Ted Kelly, who had invested $300,000 in BFA, tells the Republic. "Considering their past history, you have to be a bit cautious. Hopefully, this time around, it will be better."

Where's Tom Bosley's Father Dowling when you need him?
Somebody buy the Catholic League a new fax machine; its current one is about to burn out. The watchdog organization has been surprisingly careful about accusing media of anti-Catholicism covering of the sexual abuse scandal. But now, reports The New York Times, the scandal is about to pour into fictional television, one of the Catholic League's favorite topics.

"Several [shows are] being considered for the fall season that deal with the Catholic Church and … seem to mirror the public mood, a disenchantment with the church hierarchy," reports the Times's Alessandra Stanley. The Calling, "a spiritual X Files" in the words of its creators, "portrays the higher clergy as jaded and ultimately irrelevant." The hero of the show is a seminarian who refuses to be ordained because his superiors don't believe in miracles. (Actually, this sounds like PAX's Mysterious Ways.) "The show deals with someone who is looking to renew his faith, but that does not mean he has to get it from a church," executive producer Roger Birnbaum, says, giving religious television critics oodles to write about.

Another show, pitched as "kind of Northern Exposure in a rectory" (gotta love "original" television), is CBS's Father Lefty. The New York Post says the show about a heroic priest, produced by Sylvester Stallone, is in trouble because of the current scandal, but the Times says it's just trying to incorporate pedophilia themes into its plotlines. And that's not all:

FX is exploring ways to make a movie about pedophilia and sexual abuse in the church. NBC could also end up weaving Catholicism into its comedy lineup. The pilot for an NBC television-newsroom farce includes a nun who lands a job as a weather forecaster because she is the cousin of the station manager. … The season finale of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit on May 17 will feature a murder linked to the diocese's cover-up of a top-ranking priest's pedophilia.

Well, we said we wanted more people of faith on TV shows … (By the way, does anyone know what happened to the King of the Hill spinoff that The Hollywood Reporter said was going to focus on vigilante priest Monsignor Martinez?)

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