Following a May New York Times report, American Bible Society (ABS) trustees quickly distanced the organization from Richard J. Gordon, a former felon turned pricey web consultant hired by the organization. The report outlined Gordon's longstanding ties with online pornography businesses and his credit-card processing work for a gambling enterprise.

Shortly after the Times contacted the Bible society, the organization terminated its relationship with Gordon and placed president Paul G. Irwin and chief financial and operations officer Richard B. Stewart Jr. on paid leave. Roy Lloyd, a spokesman for the society, told Christianity Today they wanted "to give clear evidence to the world that we take this seriously."

Founded in 1816, ABS publishes the Good News and Contemporary English Version translations of the Bible. Last year the society distributed more than three million Bibles, and it has been working to increase the number of Bibles printed and distributed in China. The organization has net assets of $529 million.

However, ABS has faced various challenges recently. In the years after September 11, the society dipped into its savings to cover spending that outstripped revenues. It also laid off one-third of its staff following a drop in the value of its securities investments. Irwin was hired in 2005, but several employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity, have questioned his expenditures and decision-making, characterizing him as remote and uninvolved in the day-to-day life of the society.

Tax records indicate that from 2005 to 2007, the Bible society paid more than $5 million to Gordon's companies. Lloyd said the figure covered a number of services, including online marketing, putting a television show on the Web, and consolidating 30 ABS websites. Irwin had also hired Gordon before coming to ABS, when Irwin served as president of the Humane Society of the United States.

ABS trustees, who were meeting in China when the Times story broke, said they are launching an independent investigation and financial review.

"We don't want to give any kind of appearance of bias. So the two men stepped aside so we could conduct an investigation in a neutral kind of way. There can't be any connection of the Bible society with this kind of stuff," Lloyd said. He also said that the board hadn't decided how best to assure the independence of the investigation.

Senior sources at ABS told Christianity Today it was unlikely that Irwin would return after his paid leave, and various employees said they were shocked and angry to learn of Irwin's connections to Gordon. "We are all in mourning here over a wonderful institution," said one, who asked not to be named.

Related elsewhere:

The New York Times coverage included:

Charity's Leaders Suspended as Payments Are Reviewed | The American Bible Society said its president and chief financial officer had been placed on temporary leave following reports of payments made to a contractor with ties to online pornography (The New York Times)
An E-Commerce Empire, From Porn to Puppies | Pornography sites are central to the e-commerce business of Richard Gordon, who has also worked with the American Bible Society and the Humane Society (The New York Times)

The American Bible Society has a brief statement about the recent developments.