Some people call Dick Acker a visionary who is spreading God’s word to families and teenagers through the growing Christian music industry.
The state of Washington, former employers and previous business associates call Acker a dead-beat dad who was fired or asked to resign from previous jobs and misrepresented his education.
Acker co-founded People for Christ Ministry two years ago. The nonprofit group promotes Christian entertainment throughout the Northwest.
His goal, he said, is to bring people to God and promote Biblical principles through modern music.
But Acker’s past is not exactly a model for Christian values.
He is more than $10,000 behind in his child support, according to records from the office of Support Enforcement. The Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office is considering asking a judge to charge him with contempt for not paying.
A former business partner in a day care said Acker never paid federal payroll taxes for their employees. A school superintendent said he forced Acker to resign for laziness and inappropriately counseling students. A local shoe store owner said Acker was fired after money disappeared.
Acker’s current associates defend him, saying he’s found God. The proof, they said, is in his successful ministry, which promotes dozens of events a year and maintains a $210,000 annual budget.
Acker, 46, admitted his past looks bad, but said he can explain a lot of it.
“The devil’s really having a heyday with this whole thing,” he said. “Whenever we are working for the Lord and trying to bring people to the Lord, the devil is trying to do damage.”
Bill Fisher of Spokane started People for Christ in the fall of 1993. Acker joined him a month later and soon became president and primary spokesman. Robert Morris, a former youth pastor, joined the organization last year.
People for Christ has brought several well-known artists to the Northwest.
Acker said that despite putting 50 to 60 hours a week into the job, he draws no salary or profits from the ministry.
People for Christ registered with the Washington Secretary of State’s office as a nonprofit corporation in February 1994.
Acker said in April the organization was preparing to submit an application to the Internal Revenue Service for 501C-3 status, which would allow donors to write off contributions as tax-exempt.
As of June 30, IRS officials said no application had been submitted.
People for Christ lawyer Jack Weigand said two weeks ago the application was not prepared because no one had time to do it.
Acker said the organization has accepted less than $100 in donations and never promised the contributions would be tax-exempt.
People for Christ is not Acker’s first venture into the concertpromoting business. In the early 1970s, he promoted concerts in the Seattle area as well as Spokane and Idaho.
Acker said he quit the business because it was corrupt.
“I lost track of myself and my walk with the Lord,” he said. “It was cutthroat. The Mafia was involved. I had my office burned down and all sorts of things.”
He said he made “so much money I don’t even want to think about it.”
His ex-wife, Susan Rainey, told a different story.
She said she worked at clerical jobs to support their family, while Acker promoted concerts.
“I worked long hours for not a lot of money,” she said. “I couldn’t even have a vehicle to drive.”
When they divorced in 1982, their oldest child, Jeremy now 23, lived with Acker. Their daughters, Crystal, now 15, and Holly, now 18, stayed with Rainey.
A judge ordered Acker to pay $100 a month in child support at the time of the divorce. In 1990, that order was increased to $250 a month.
Acker said he refused to pay because the money doesn’t go to the children. Instead, it supports a lavish lifestyle for his ex-wife and her second husband, he said.
He also said he doesn’t approve of the way his wife is raising their children. On top of that, he’s poor.
“You can’t get blood from a turnip,” he said. “If I had it, I’d give it to her.”
In addition to his unpaid child support, Acker has had a string of unsuccessful jobs and business ventures.
He filed bankruptcy twice, in 1986 and 1974, legally avoiding thousands of dollars of debt. More than a half dozen creditors filed judgments against him in Spokane County District and Superior courts.
While running the Tot Town Day Care Center, 320 W. Dalke, from October 1981 to September 1984, he failed to pay federal payroll taxes, his former partner said.
The partner, Karol D. Coleman, still flies into a rage at the mention of Acker’s name. “He cost me $22,000,” Coleman said. “He didn’t pay the taxes. He got off scot-free and set me back my entire life.”
Coleman said he had to pay the IRS bill to keep his house.
In addition, Coleman said when the two met in 1981, Acker claimed to have just graduated from college and wanted to run a day care as his first business. Acker actually didn’t get his degree until 1988.
In an interview last week, Acker said he considered Coleman a friend and was surprised to learn of his complaints.
In the mid1980s, Acker was fired from his job with Berg’s Junior Shoe Shops Inc. after cash sales at one of the stores didn’t show up in the register, said owner Jack Berg.
The store owner said more than $1,000 disappeared from the Shadle store, where Acker was assistant manager. Berg said he didn’t press criminal charges because he had no hope of getting the money back.
In last week’s interview, Acker admitted taking the money but said he did it to pay off his ex-wife’s credit card bills.
Acker has claimed to have a master’s degree in counseling from Eastern Washington University. EWU records show he earned only a bachelor of arts in education and special education in 1988, said Stephanie Pettit, an Eastern spokeswoman.
He explained he has more than “150 credits toward a degree, but never completed the program.” Pettit said she could not confirm that because Acker placed a restriction on his records that prevents her from releasing details.
Acker became a special education teacher at the Reardan-Edwall School District in 1988, but was forced to resign in 1990.
“He wasn’t a very good teacher,” said Reardan Superintendent Tom Crowley. “He was kind of on the lazy side as a teacher. He did things like showing a fight film in English class.”
Acker began counseling seriously troubled students who needed professional help, Crowley said, and wouldn’t refer those students to the professional counselor.
Acker said his Reardan problems stemmed from a personality conflict. He said he accused school officials of misspending money ear-marked for the special education program. After that he was harassed and treated unfairly by the administration, he said.
After leaving Reardan, Acker said he worked as youth director at St. David’s Episcopal church in Spokane.
“He was basically the janitor, and that job didn’t get done very well,” said the Rev. Peter Stretch, pastor of the church at the time of Acker’s employment. “He did volunteer, teaching one youth class, but he was not the youth director.”
Acker said last week that although it wasn’t a budgeted position, he and his wife were informally recognized as youth directors by church members.
Now, Acker said, he’s discovered his calling with People for Christ.
“I’m a good person and every place I’ve been, I’ve done good work,” he said. “I feel our ministry has been a valid contribution to the Christian community.”
Acker said children always have been his priority, especially those who don’t fit in with their peers.
“I felt really frustrated because one of the strongest tools, I thought, for working with the kids is the Lord,” he said. “And you can’t utilize that within the system.”
Next to peer pressure, music is the strongest influence in the lives of young people, Acker said. Through his ministry, he said he has exposed hundreds of people to God who wouldn’t go near a church.
Dozens of others praise Acker’s ministry. They say that his past and his personal life shouldn’t detract from the good of his work.
“The ministry is not who the person is, the ministry is what comes out of it,” said Daryl Bursch, owner of the Christian Gift Center, where tickets to People for Christ events are sold.
He quoted the Bible: “Even if they are preaching for their own vain glory, glorify what is being preached.”
Acker’s partners, Morris and Fisher, said they won’t judge Acker’s past.
“Once somebody has asked for Christ’s forgiveness, he is still beholden to man’s laws, but as far as Christ is concerned it’s a clean slate,” Morris said.
Fisher said some of Acker’s past bothers him, but as a Christian he will not judge him.
“I’m paying child support and I’ve never missed a day, never missed a penny,” Fisher said. “I filed a bankruptcy and paid back every cent.”
But Acker’s past obligations are between “him and God,” Fisher said.
People for Christ lawyer Weigand said he thinks the corporation is genuine about its mission of bringing God to people through entertainment.
“It’s not the cleanest in terms of getting all its ducks lined up and everything filed,” he said. “They have stumbled along the way.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo