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Televangelist Jim Bakker is indicted on federal charges

Televangelist Jim Bakker is indicted on federal charges


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Televangelist Jim Bakker is indicted on federal charges of mail and wire fraud and of conspiring to defraud the public. The case against the founder of Praise the Lord (PTL) Ministries and three of his aides exploded in the press when it was revealed that Bakker had sex with former church secretary Jessica Hahn.

On December 6, 1980, Bakker and Hahn had a sexual encounter in a Florida hotel room. Although they each told different stories of what had happened, Bakker eventually paid Hahn over $350,000 to remain silent. When the arrangement became public, the scandal helped to bring down the entire PTL ministry.

Hahn, who claimed that she didn’t want to be in the spotlight, became an overnight celebrity. She posed for Playboy magazine, wrote a book about her relationship with Bakker, and even briefly lived in the Playboy mansion. Hahn, a radio announcer in Phoenix, Arizona, at the time of Bakker’s indictment, soon became a regular on Howard Stern’s radio show and appeared in rock music videos, as well.

Jim and his wife, Tammy Faye, were on top of the world before the scandal first broke. They were enormously successful at raising money for their televised religious programs, and after its 1974 debut, their cable show became the highest rated religious show in the country. The Bakkers then added talk-show elements to standard preaching, often featuring celebrities, music, and comedy. With all of the money they made from their programming, the Bakkers built a 2,200-acre resort, Heritage USA, which featured a studio large enough to seat 1,800 people. Six million people visited the park in 1986, placing it behind only Disney World and Disneyland in terms of attendance.

When the Hahn scandal was leaked, other televangelists were outraged. Jimmy Swaggart, in particular, went out of his way to condemn Bakker. Tammy Faye responded to their critics by singing “The Ballad of Jim and Tammy Faye” to the tune of “Harper Valley PTA” on their show. Still, Tammy Faye could not defend the ministry against federal charges that the funding for Heritage USA had been acquired by defrauding their viewers and donors.

Although the evidence was not particularly strong, Jim Bakker was convicted in 1989 and sentenced to 45 years in prison. The sentence was later reduced to eight years, and he was released in 1994. Tammy Faye divorced Jim while he was in prison; she died in 2007.


The scandals that brought down the Bakkers, once among US's most famous televangelists

Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker once held a multimillion-dollar TV empire.

ɽivinely UNFAITHFUL' - the 2-hour 20/20 event - Tonight at 9/8c on ABC

An encore presentation of this "20/20" report will air TONIGHT, Friday, Dec. 20, at 9 p.m. ET on ABC

Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were among the most famous televangelists in America, living a life of luxury with multiple houses, expensive cars and more money than God, when their empire all came crashing down amid sex and financial scandals.

But in the years following the demise of their ministry, the Bakkers didn't let a prison sentence, the loss of their massively popular multimillion-dollar TV network, the closure of their "Christian version of Disneyland" theme park, financial ruin, a divorce and being the butt of many "Saturday Night Live" jokes keep them down - or away from the spotlight.

By the mid-'70s, the Bakkers were becoming household names through their TV show, "The PTL Club" -- PTL stood for "Praise the Lord" or “People That Love.” Initially it aired on a small North Carolina station owned by media mogul Ted Turner.

"What [Bakker] really wanted to do. was create a Christian version of 'The Tonight Show'," said John Wigger, author of “PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire.” "Which was really the first of Bakker's big innovations, the Christian talk show."

The Bakkers purchased airtime on TV stations across the United States, Wigger said, in order to run their various programs. In 1978, Jim Bakker created a satellite network to distribute his paid programming more efficiently and widely.

To fund his enterprise, the Bakkers hosted telethons and asked viewers to sign up for monthly pledges to become “PTL Club” partners.

"Instead of us running a commercial and being paid for that commercial, we just went directly to our viewers and said, 'If you like what you see, help us’. All of your favorite shows are asking you to give them money by buying their products. It's no different,'" said former PTL security chief Don Hardister.

The money, according to Hardister, came pouring in.

"We had a cash office and at times there was certainly more money in than. I could imagine," he said." "People would send us mink coats, diamond rings, deeds. I mean, we got all sorts of donations."

By the mid-'80s, the Bakkers, who had two children by then, had built a multimillion-dollar empire.'

"What we didn't realize was this would come to an end," Hardister said. "I never dreamed that it would come to an end."

The income from their satellite network allowed the Bakkers to purchase a total of 2,300 acres of land for a new venture -- a 500-room hotel and waterpark complex they called Heritage USA, located in Fort Mill, South Carolina.

"Bakker had always been fascinated by Walt Disney," he said. "He sat back and said, 'Why can't we have a Christian version of Disneyland?"

Bakker asked followers to give $1,000 for "lifetime partnerships" that would entitle them to an annual three-night stay at the Heritage Grand hotel, but this would be one of the first of many cracks in the Bakkers' empire.

"Problem is, there were way too many people giving $1,000, not nearly enough hotel rooms," said Mark Becker, a reporter for Charlotte-based ABC affiliate WSOC-TV, who reported on the Bakkers.

"He sold more than 66,000 lifetime partnerships in the Heritage Grand, which amounted to more than 100 percent occupancy in that hotel," Wigger said.

Then in January 1987, Jim Bakker had just broken ground on a $100-million dollar ministry center he dubbed the Crystal Palace when Wigger said, "Tammy Faye had a breakdown."

Hardister said he was with Tammy Faye when it happened.

"They left me in the house alone with Tammy, and that's when she started hallucinating," he said. "And I couldn't believe I'm there by myself with this lady and she'd taken her clothes off, and Tammy didn't do that kind of stuff around me. We all knew she had some prescription drug problems."

Two months later, the Bakkers disclosed to their viewers in a videotaped message that Tammy Faye was being treated for drug dependency. But then they were rocked again when their hometown newspaper, The Charlotte Observer, published an expose revealing Jim Bakker had a sexual encounter more than 6 years earlier with Jessica Hahn, a young church secretary from Long Island, New York.

Hahn later claimed that in December 1980, when she was 21 years old, Jim Bakker allegedly sexually assaulted her. The ministry then paid more than $200,000 in hush money. Jim Bakker disputed her account of a sexual assault and years later, he wrote in his book, "I Was Wrong," that the sex was consensual.

"The way Jessica Hahn later described her sexual encounter with Jim Bakker sounds very much like rape," Wigger said. "She later told me that she doesn’t really feel comfortable talking about it in those terms, but she also clearly didn’t believe that it was consensual."

Needing to lay low at the time, Jim Bakker resigned from PTL and turned to Jerry Falwell, another well-known televangelist and minister, to step in and run the ministry until the Hahn scandal blew over.

"Bakker said [to Falwell], 'I'd like you to take the helm of PTL and hold it together. I need to take some time with my wife and family,'" said Mark DeMoss, a former Falwell spokesman.

But what Falwell didn't know at the time, Wigger said, was that PTL was "deeply in debt."

"Leveraged to the point of collapse. they're bleeding two million dollars a month," he said. "The other thing that comes to light is that [Jim] Bakker allegedly had a number of same-sex relationships."

At a press conference in May 1987, Falwell said the Bakkers were no longer fit to lead PTL, accusing Jim Bakker of being secretly gay and claimed that Tammy Faye Bakker made a long list of demands in order for them to give up plans to come back to PTL that included large annual salaries, two cars, a maid for one year and a furnished house on a lake, among other things.

The Bakkers too went on a media tour. In a May 1987 interview with Ted Koppel for "Nightline," Tammy Faye didn't deny making that list of demands.

"He [Falwell] asked us what we felt that, after all these years of the ministry, of leaving the ministry, what we should have," she told Koppel at the time. "And you know, when you're negotiating --"

"You start out at the top," Jim Bakker finished for her.

Reflecting on that interview today, Koppel said, "Over the years, I did over 6,000 'Nightlines,' that was number one. Not in my heart . but in terms of what had the greatest appeal to the greatest number of people. That was it."

The government began reviewing PTL’s finances, as well as the spending and compensation of the Bakkers and other top PTL officials. At one point, the Bakkers’ vast portfolio included several homes, a private jet, two Rolls Royces, a Mercedes Benz, expensive clothes and an air-conditioned doghouse.

"It was quite a lengthy investigation," said former ABC News correspondent Rebecca Chase. "But ultimately culminated in significant indictments. for Jim Bakker and all of his lieutenants."

Meanwhile, Jessica Hahn went on to pose for "Playboy" magazine multiple times and made several appearances on "The Howard Stern Show" that continued for years afterward.

Jim Bakker was indicted in 1988 on eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy.

"Tammy Faye was not indicted," said Suzanne Stevens, a former WSOC-TV anchor who covered the Bakkers. "But that was the big talk: How could she have not known? She was wearing fur coats, she was wearing rings."

Even Bakker’s trial, which took place before federal Judge Robert Potter, was marred by drama.

"One of the witnesses the prosecution called was Steve Nelson, and Nelson's department at PTL had been in charge of collecting the data on lifetime partnerships, so Nelson knew that Jim Bakker knew the lifetime partnership program was oversold," Wigger said.

During his testimony, Nelson collapsed on the stand and had to be taken to the hospital.

"When he fainted, it was this silence and. a voice from the audience came [up and said], 'Oh, he's giving his life to God,' . and Bakker's attorney called him [Jim Bakker] up, 'Jim, Jim,' as if there's going to be a miracle, he can bring him back to life," said Jerry McJunkins, who was one of several court sketch artists covering the trial.

"Jim literally thought [Nelson] had died," added Hardister.

The next day, Jim Bakker "had a psychological breakdown," Wigger said, saying he was hallucinating that “the reporters outside the courtroom looked to him like giant bugs."

"He was curled up underneath his attorney's couch," Hardister said. "I think the weight of that trial and the weight of everything that he had done, good and bad, just crushed him."

Judge Potter ordered Bakker to be committed to a psychiatric ward in a federal prison and the trial was put on hold.

Six days later, Jim Bakker emerged, ready to take the stand in his own defense.

On Oct. 5, 1989, a jury found Bakker guilty on all 24 counts. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison and ordered to pay a $500,000 fine.

Jim Bakker filed an appeal, arguing that his sentence was too long for the crimes. In 1991, the appellate court upheld his conviction but granted him a sentence-reduction hearing, during which he was granted a reduced prison sentence from 45 years down to eight years. He ended up serving almost five years of that sentence before being paroled in 1994.

While Jim Bakker was in prison, Tammy Faye filed for divorce. Shortly thereafter, she married Roe Messner, the contractor who built Heritage USA. But after the financial fallout of PTL, Messner was sentenced in 1996 to 27 months in federal prison for bankruptcy fraud.


The Bakkers made bank on The PTL Club

Back in the late 1970s — long before fellow televangelist Joel Osteen founded his megachurch — Jim Bakker and then-wife Tammy Faye Bakker were traveling Pentecostal preachers who came upon the idea of creating a evangelical puppet show for a Minnesota TV station. Their modest production caught the eye of popular televangelist Pat Robertson and, as Christianity Today reported, he helped launch their own talk show, The PTL Club.

An acronym for "Praise the Lord," The PTL Club was sort of "a Christian version of The Tonight Show," PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's Evangelical Empire author John Wigger told ABC News in 2019. As the series' popularity grew, so did the volume of viewer donations, with the show's former security chief, Don Hardister, recalling to the publication, "We had a cash office and at times there was certainly more money in than . I could imagine. People would send us mink coats, diamond rings, deeds. I mean, we got all sorts of donations."

For their part, the Bakkers didn't necessarily try to conceal their newfound (and seemingly shady) wealth. By the 1980s — an era characterized by conspicuous consumption — their surprising purchases rivaled, say, the Trump family, with the Los Angeles Times reporting on such perks as "gold-plated swan-shaped bathroom fixtures" and "an air-conditioned doghouse."


Televangelist Jim Bakker blames his 1989 imprisonment for fraud on ‘cancel culture’

Televangelist Jim Bakker isn’t happy with cancel culture and believes his imprisonment for fraud in 1989 aided by “a group of preachers” but mostly the media at the height of his ministry's success was an early example of cancel culture.

“They canceled me,” Bakker declared on “The Jim Bakker Show” last Friday.

Bakker was indicted in 1988 on eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy. According to The New York Times, government prosecutors argued that Bakker bilked followers of his PTL Ministry out of $158 million by offering promises of lifetime vacations he could not provide.

He was also accused of diverting about $3.7 million to support a lavish lifestyle, including an air-conditioned dog house and a fleet of Mercedes-Benzes and Rolls-Royces.

He was found guilty on all 24 counts on Oct. 5, 1989, and sentenced to 45 years in prison. He was ordered to pay a $500,000 fine. Bakker later filed an appeal. In 1991, an appellate court upheld his conviction. But he was granted a sentence-reduction hearing, during which his sentence was reduced to eight years. He served almost five years before he received parole in 1994.

But Bakker argues that when he looks back at what happened, he was really canceled by preachers who wanted to take over his ministry and the media.

“It was a group of preachers earlier that worked with them but mainly it was the media," he said. "And the media got a Pulitzer Prize for putting me in prison. That’s what they do. They reward the enemies of the Gospel. . We had the largest ministry of its type in the world — Heritage USA. Millions of people came there, and it was millions being saved around the world. And they literally took it away, put it into bankruptcy. [They] said they were going to care for it. It was all lies. It was a takeover plan. And it was done in front of the world. And that is what cancel culture is."

He further argued that "one of the biggest agencies of the federal government produced video from my show video and edited it and put me in prison."

"They testified that it was that video that made people believe, ‘Well, something must be wrong,'" he contends. "They made me say things I didn’t say. They just put pieces together, thousands of pieces of my show. And so, when I went to trial for the last trial — after I got out of a prison, I was put on trial again — and in that, the lawyers got all that tape that the government had edited — the government did it!”

“Just like now, this is cancel culture — and they took it apart and put it back the way it was on the show. And the lies — they made me tell lies that weren’t there. When the courts heard this, they saw the first video that the government had edited and then they saw the one from the original. They voted unanimously that I wasn’t guilty.”

As The Charlotte Observer points out in a 2018 article about how Bakker's online biography stated that his case was "overturned," that his website "combines its narrative of his criminal case with a later civil class action suit."

"Those PTL partners, numbering close to 160,000, later won a $129.7 million civil suit against Bakker, but found he had no money. So they filed a class action suit to try to collect insurance money to cover their losses," the report states. "They lost that bid when a federal jury concluded in 1996 that the partnerships were not securities or investments. The people who paid for those 'lifetime partnership' vacation plans will never get their money back."

A recent study of cancel culture by the Pew Research Center shows that while some people see the controversial term as a way to hold people accountable for their actions, many others, particularly conservative Republicans, see it as a form of censorship.

“Conservative Republicans who had heard of the term were more likely than other partisan and ideological groups to see cancel culture as a form of censorship,” Pew noted.

About a quarter of conservative Republicans familiar with the term described it as censorship, compared with 15% of moderate or liberal Republicans and roughly one-in-ten or fewer Democrats, regardless of ideology.


Disgraced Televangelists Jim Bakker And Jimmy Swaggart Received PPP Loans

Disgraced televangelists Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart are among the leaders of religious organizations that received loans through the government&aposs COVID relief program, according to an analysis by the Guardian.

  • The publication reported that Bakker’s Morningside Church Productions in Missouri received between $350,000 and $1 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans from the federal government.
  • The Guardian noted that Bakker “was defrocked by the Assemblies of God after a highly publicized sexual encounter with a church secretary was imprisoned in the 90s on dozens of fraud and conspiracy charges surrounding his church fundraising and now promotes emergency survival products.”
  • The televangelist was also sued by Missouri’s attorney general this year for selling a fake 𠇌oronavirus cure.”
  • Meanwhile, Swaggart’s Family Worship Center in Louisiana received between $2 million and $5 million in PPP loans.
  • Swaggart “was defrocked by the Pentecostal Assemblies of God in the early 1990s after being implicated in sex scandals.”

In all, more than 10,600 religious organizations received at least $3 billion in loans through the program, according to the Guardian’s analysis, including churches, synagogues, temples and private religious schools.


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“I Was Canceled by the Federal Government” Says Convicted Felon Jim Bakker

“In 1989, televangelist Jim Bakker was convicted by a jury of 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy and sentenced to 45 years in prison for having bilked members of his Praise The Lord ministry out of hundreds of millions of dollars. Bakker had raised these funds by selling “lifetime partnerships” to viewers that entitled them to an annual free stay at his Heritage USA Christian theme park, but the number of partnerships sold far exceeded the park’s capacity and millions of dollars were diverted to fund Bakker’s own lavish lifestyle.” (Right Wing Watch)

They canceled me. Mainly it was the media, and the media got a Pulitzer Prize for putting me in prison. That’s what they do, they reward the enemies of the gospel. And the cancel culture, we had the largest ministry of its type in the world—Heritage USA—millions of people came there, and it was millions being saved around the world, and they literally took it away.

That was what cancel culture is. One of the biggest agencies of the federal government produced video from my show video and edited it and put me in prison. They testified that it was that video that made people believe, ‘Well, something must be wrong.’ They made me say things I didn’t say. They just put pieces together, thousands of pieces of my show, and so when I went to trial for the last trial—after I got out of a prison, I was put on trial again—and in that, the lawyers got all that tape that the government had edited—the government did it! Just like now, this is cancel culture—and they took it apart and put it back the way it was on the show. And the lies—they made me tell lies that weren’t there—when the courts heard this, they saw the first video that the government had edited and then they saw the one from the original, they voted unanimously that I wasn’t guilty.

It was cancel culture. Everything to erase me.

A $279,000 payoff [by Jim Bakker] for the silence of [Jessica] Hahn, who alleged that Bakker and former PTL Club co-host John Wesley Fletcher drugged and raped her, was paid with PTL funds through Bakker’s associate Roe Messner. Bakker, who made PTL’s financial decisions, allegedly kept two sets of books to conceal accounting irregularities. Reporters for The Charlotte Observer, led by Charles Shepard, investigated PTL’s finances and published a series of articles.

On March 19, 1987, after the disclosure of a payoff to Hahn, Bakker resigned from PTL. Although he acknowledged that he had a sexual encounter with Hahn at a hotel room in Clearwater, Florida, he denied raping her. Bakker was also the subject of homosexual and bisexual allegations made by Fletcher and PTL director Jay Babcock, which Bakker denied under oath. Rival televangelist John Ankerberg appeared on Larry King Live and made several allegations of moral impropriety against Bakker, which both Bakkers denied.

Bakker was succeeded as PTL head by the Rev. Jerry Falwell of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Bakker chose Falwell as his successor because he feared that fellow televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who had initiated an Assemblies of God investigation into Bakker’s sexual misconduct, was attempting to take over his ministry.

Bakker believed that Falwell would temporarily lead the ministry until the scandal died down, but on April 28, 1987, Falwell barred Bakker from returning to PTL upon hearing of allegations of illicit behavior which went beyond the Hahn allegations. Later that summer, as donations declined sharply in the wake of Bakker’s resignation and the end of The PTL Club, Falwell raised $20 million to keep Heritage USA solvent and took a promised water slide ride at the park. Falwell and the remaining members of the PTL board resigned in October 1987, stating that a ruling from a bankruptcy court judge made rebuilding the ministry impossible.

In response to the scandal, Falwell called Bakker a liar, an embezzler, a sexual deviant, and “the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity in 2,000 years of church history”. On CNN, Swaggart stated that Bakker was a “cancer in the body of Christ”. In February 1988, Swaggart became involved in a sex scandal of his own after being caught visiting prostitutes in New Orleans.

In Bakker’s aforementioned rant alleging the Federal Government canceled him, Bakker tells a whopper of a lie: “when the courts heard this, they saw the first video that the government had edited and then they saw the one from the original, they voted unanimously that I wasn’t guilty.”

The PTL Club‘s fundraising activities between 1984 and 1987 were reported by The Charlotte Observer, eventually leading to criminal charges against Bakker. Bakker and his PTL associates sold $1,000 “lifetime memberships”, entitling buyers to an annual three-night stay at a luxury hotel at Heritage USA during that period. According to the prosecution at Bakker’s fraud trial, tens of thousands of memberships were sold but only one 500-room hotel was ever finished. Bakker sold “exclusive partnerships” which exceeded capacity, raising more than twice the money needed to build the hotel. Much of the money paid Heritage USA’s operating expenses, and Bakker kept $3.4 million.

After a sixteen-month federal grand jury probe, Bakker was indicted in 1988 on eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy. In 1989, after a five-week trial which began on August 28 in Charlotte, North Carolina, a jury found him guilty on all 24 counts. Judge Robert Daniel Potter sentenced Bakker to 45 years in federal prison and imposed a $500,000 fine. At the Federal Medical Center, Rochester in Rochester, Minnesota, he shared a cell with activist Lyndon LaRouche and skydiver Roger Nelson.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld Bakker’s conviction on the fraud and conspiracy charges, voided Bakker’s 45-year sentence and $500,000 fine, and ordered a new sentencing hearing in February 1991. The court ruled that Potter’s sentencing statement about Bakker, that “those of us who do have a religion are sick of being saps for money-grubbing preachers and priests”, was evidence that the judge had injected his religious beliefs into Bakker’s sentence.

A sentence-reduction hearing was held on November 16, 1992, and Bakker’s sentence was reduced to eight years. In August 1993, he was transferred to a minimum-security federal prison in Jesup, Georgia. Bakker was paroled in July 1994, after serving almost five years of his sentence. Bakker was released from Federal Bureau of Prisons custody on December 1, 1994, owing $6 million to the IRS.

Once a con-man, always a con-man.

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.


Kenneth Copeland

Copeland justified his jet-setting by saying that he could not evangelize without the aircraft. "If I flew commercial, I'd have to stop 65% of what I'm doing," he told journalist Lisa Guerrero.

Guerrero then pressed Copeland on a statement he made in 2015 in which he compared flying in commercial class to getting "in a long tube with a bunch of demons" to fellow televangelist Jesse Duplantis.

"No, I do not, and don't you ever say that I did," he responded, pointing a finger at the journalist.

He owns an airport close to his Kenneth Copeland Ministries in Fort Worth.


Popular TV Preacher Sentenced to 1000 Years in Prison

Televangelists and TV preachers have had a long history of abuse and scandal.

Over the last few decades, we’ve seen people like Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker indicted on federal charges and a sex scandal. Around the same time, you had Jimmy Swaggart who was defrocked after a sex scandal involving prostitutes.

There was Teg Haggard who paid a gay escort for drugs and sex. He was ultimately fired for sexually immoral conduct.

Bishop Eddie Long was the pastor of a megachurch in Atlanta, Georgia before he was accused of enticing teenage male members of the church to perform sexual acts with him using the riches he made from the church. Also, Atlanta based pastor Creflo Dollar was arrested for choking his daughter.

Now, popular Alabama televangelist Acton Bowen was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 1,008 years in prison for 28 charges of raping and sexually assaulting children. He was also ordered to pay nearly $1 million in fines.

Bowen, 39, entered guilty pleas earlier this month in Etowah County to 28 counts of sexual abuse involving six male victims between the ages of 13 and 16. The charges included enticing a child for a sexual act, sodomy, traveling to meet a child for a sexual act and sexual abuse.

Circuit Judge Debra Jones presided over the case after several Etowah County judges recused themselves. Bowen’s ex-wife is the daughter of an Etowah County judge.

Moments before being sentenced, Bowen, standing in shackles, looked out on a packed courtroom and apologized in a trembling voice, both to his own family and the victims, for years of sexual abuse. “The shame and guilt I feel is overwhelming and has been for a long time,” he said. “My heart was never wanting to hurt anybody but my mind was not well.”

Family members and victims wept as Jones slowly read out the maximum sentence and fine on every count. Each sentence is to run consecutively – rather than concurrent.


Dr. Paula White, Trump's 'spiritual advisor,' may be faking her doctoral degree

Following Donald Trump's inauguration, publications such as Slate highlighted Paula White's lack of credentials — notably, that she calls herself a doctor without an actual degree, and that in 2014, she lost everything when her first church went bankrupt, with $29 million in loans (despite living in a $2.2 million mansion). But perhaps she wasn't such a strange pick: Trump's businesses have declared bankruptcy multiple times.

But that's not all that's bizarre about Paula White. In early 2020, according to The Guardian, she was broadcast on video commanding "satanic pregnancies" to "miscarry." (She later claimed this was taken out of context.) White believed that she had been appointed as Trump's adviser on assignment from God, believed financial prosperity was part of God's approval, and had faced allegations of misusing church funds before. In fact, Paula White's church took in from $150,000 to $350,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program. Many churches and televangelists did.

White was one of six televangelists investigated for misappropriation of White House funds. Some accused White of opportunism, due to her requests for "seed" money for Trump's Faith and Opportunity Initiative — and the running of online coronavirus prayer sessions, which claimed that she operated a hospital for the sick. And while she's only "lost everything" once, PPP inquiries and fraud investigations continue.


Contents

James Orsen Bakker was born in Muskegon, Michigan, the son of Raleigh Bakker and Furnia Lynette "Furn" Irwin. [2] Bakker attended North Central University, a Minneapolis bible college affiliated with the Assemblies of God, where he met fellow student Tammy Faye LaValley in 1960. [3] Bakker worked at a restaurant in the Young-Quinlan department store in Minneapolis Tammy Faye worked at the Three Sisters, a nearby boutique. [4]

The Bakkers married on April 1, 1961, and left college to become intinerant evangelists. They had two children, Tammy Sue "Sissy" Bakker Chapman (born March 2, 1970) and Jamie Charles "Jay" Bakker (born December 18, 1975). The couple divorced on March 13, 1992. [5] On September 4, 1998, Bakker married Lori Beth Graham, a former televangelist, fifty days after they met. [6] In 2002 they adopted five children. [7] [8] [9]

Early career Edit

In 1966, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker began working at Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) in Portsmouth, Virginia, which had an audience in the low thousands at the time. [10] The Bakkers contributed to the network's growth, hosting a children's variety show called Come On Over that employed comic routines with puppets. [11] Due to the success of Come On Over, Robertson made Bakker the host of a new prime-time talk show, The 700 Club, which gradually became CBN's flagship program. [12] The Bakkers left CBN in 1972 and, the following year, joined with Paul and Jan Crouch to help co-found the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) in California. However, this partnership only lasted eight months until a falling-out between Jim Bakker and Paul Crouch caused the Bakkers to leave the new network.

PTL Edit

After their exit from TBN, the Bakkers moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, where in 1976 they debuted their own late night-style talk show, The PTL Club. [14] Bakker founded the PTL Satellite Network in 1974, which aired The PTL Club and other religious television programs through local affiliates across the U.S. [15]

Throughout the 1970s, Bakker built a headquarters for PTL in the Carolinas called Heritage Village. [15] Over time, the Bakkers expanded the ministry to include the Heritage USA theme park in Fort Mill, South Carolina, which became the third most successful theme park in the U.S. at the time. Viewer contributions were estimated to exceed $1 million a week, with proceeds to expand the theme park and The PTL Club 's mission. [1] [16] Bakker responded to inquiries about his use of mass media by saying: "I believe that if Jesus were alive today, he would be on TV". [17]

Two scandals brought down PTL in 1987: Bakker was accused of sexual misconduct by church secretary Jessica Hahn, which led to his resignation, and his illegal misuse of ministry funds eventually led to his imprisonment. [15] Bakker was dismissed as an Assemblies of God minister on May 6, 1987. [18] In 1990, the biographic television movie Fall from Grace, starring Kevin Spacey as Bakker, depicted his rise and fall. [19] On January 18, 2019, ABC's 20/20 aired a two-hour special, entitled Unfaithfully Yours, about the PTL scandal. [20]

Early investigations Edit

In 1979, Bakker and PTL came under investigation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for allegedly misusing funds raised on the air. The FCC report was finalized in 1982 and found that Bakker had raised $350,000 that he told viewers would go towards funding overseas missions but that was actually used to pay for part of Heritage USA. The report also found that the Bakkers used PTL funds for personal expenses. [21] FCC commissioners voted four to three to drop the investigation, after which they allowed Bakker to sell the only TV station that he owned, therefore bypassing future FCC oversight. [22] The FCC forwarded its report to the U.S. Department of Justice, which declined to press charges, citing insufficient evidence. [21] Bakker used the controversy to raise more funds from his audience, branding the investigation a "witch-hunt" and asking viewers to "give the Devil a black eye". [22]

A confidential 1985 Internal Revenue Service (IRS) report found that $1.3 million in ministry funds was used for the Bakkers' personal benefit from 1980 to 1983. The report recommended that PTL be stripped of its tax-exempt status, but no action was taken until after the Jessica Hahn scandal broke in 1987. Art Harris and Michael Isikoff wrote in The Washington Post that politics may have played a role in the three government agencies taking no action against PTL despite the evidence against them, as members of the Reagan administration were not eager to go after television ministers whose evangelical followers made up their base. [23]

Sexual misconduct and resignation Edit

A $279,000 payoff for the silence of Hahn, who alleged that Bakker and former PTL Club co-host John Wesley Fletcher drugged and raped her, was paid with PTL funds through Bakker's associate Roe Messner. [24] [25] Bakker, who made PTL's financial decisions, allegedly kept two sets of books to conceal accounting irregularities. Reporters for The Charlotte Observer, led by Charles Shepard, investigated PTL's finances and published a series of articles. [26]

On March 19, 1987, after the disclosure of a payoff to Hahn, Bakker resigned from PTL. [24] Although he acknowledged that he had a sexual encounter with Hahn at a hotel room in Clearwater, Florida, he denied raping her. [27] Bakker was also the subject of homosexual and bisexual allegations made by Fletcher and PTL director Jay Babcock, which Bakker denied under oath. [28] [29] Rival televangelist John Ankerberg appeared on Larry King Live and made several allegations of moral impropriety against Bakker, which both Bakkers denied. [30]

Bakker was succeeded as PTL head by the Rev. Jerry Falwell of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. [27] Bakker chose Falwell as his successor because he feared that fellow televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who had initiated an Assemblies of God investigation into Bakker's sexual misconduct, was attempting to take over his ministry. [31]

Bakker believed that Falwell would temporarily lead the ministry until the scandal died down, [32] but on April 28, 1987, Falwell barred Bakker from returning to PTL upon hearing of allegations of illicit behavior which went beyond the Hahn allegations. [33] Later that summer, as donations declined sharply in the wake of Bakker's resignation and the end of The PTL Club, Falwell raised $20 million to keep Heritage USA solvent and took a promised water slide ride at the park. [34] Falwell and the remaining members of the PTL board resigned in October 1987, stating that a ruling from a bankruptcy court judge made rebuilding the ministry impossible. [35]

In response to the scandal, Falwell called Bakker a liar, an embezzler, a sexual deviant, and "the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity in 2,000 years of church history". [36] On CNN, Swaggart stated that Bakker was a "cancer in the body of Christ". [32] In February 1988, Swaggart became involved in a sex scandal of his own after being caught visiting prostitutes in New Orleans. [37] The Bakker and Swaggart scandals had a profound effect on the world of televangelism, causing greater media scrutiny of TV ministers and their finances. [38] Falwell said that the scandals had "strengthened broadcast evangelism and made Christianity stronger, more mature and more committed." [39] [40] Joe Carter of The Gospel Coalition later compared the PTL scandal to the 2017 Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations. [41]

Fraud conviction and imprisonment Edit

The PTL Club ' s fundraising activities between 1984 and 1987 were reported by The Charlotte Observer, eventually leading to criminal charges against Bakker. [42] Bakker and his PTL associates sold $1,000 "lifetime memberships", entitling buyers to an annual three-night stay at a luxury hotel at Heritage USA during that period. [43] According to the prosecution at Bakker's fraud trial, tens of thousands of memberships were sold but only one 500-room hotel was ever finished. [44] Bakker sold "exclusive partnerships" which exceeded capacity, raising more than twice the money needed to build the hotel. Much of the money paid Heritage USA's operating expenses, and Bakker kept $3.4 million. [45]

After a sixteen-month federal grand jury probe, Bakker was indicted in 1988 on eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy. [24] In 1989, after a five-week trial which began on August 28 in Charlotte, North Carolina, a jury found him guilty on all 24 counts. Judge Robert Daniel Potter sentenced Bakker to 45 years in federal prison and imposed a $500,000 fine. [46] [47] [48] At the Federal Medical Center, Rochester in Rochester, Minnesota, he shared a cell with activist Lyndon LaRouche and skydiver Roger Nelson. [49]

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld Bakker's conviction on the fraud and conspiracy charges, voided Bakker's 45-year sentence and $500,000 fine, and ordered a new sentencing hearing in February 1991. [50] The court ruled that Potter's sentencing statement about Bakker, that "those of us who do have a religion are sick of being saps for money-grubbing preachers and priests", [51] was evidence that the judge had injected his religious beliefs into Bakker's sentence. [50]

A sentence-reduction hearing was held on November 16, 1992, and Bakker's sentence was reduced to eight years. In August 1993, he was transferred to a minimum-security federal prison in Jesup, Georgia. Bakker was paroled in July 1994, after serving almost five years of his sentence. [52] His son, Jay, spearheaded a letter-writing campaign to the parole board advocating leniency. [53] Celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz acted as Bakker's parole attorney, having said that he "would guarantee that Mr. Bakker would never again engage in the blend of religion and commerce that led to his conviction." [54] Bakker was released from Federal Bureau of Prisons custody on December 1, 1994, [55] owing $6 million to the IRS. [56]

Return to televangelism Edit

In 2003, Bakker began broadcasting The Jim Bakker Show daily at Studio City Café in Branson, Missouri, with his second wife Lori [57] it has been carried on CTN, Daystar, Folk TV, Grace Network (Canada), GEB America, Hope TV (Canada), Impact Network, WGN, WHT, TCT Network, The Word Network, UpliftTV, and ZLiving networks. [58] [59] [60] Most of Bakker's audience receives his program on DirecTV and Dish Network. [61] Bakker condemned the prosperity theology that he took part in earlier in his career and has embraced apocalypticism. [15] His show has a millennial, survivalist focus and sells buckets of freeze-dried food to his audience in preparation for the end of days. [62] Elspeth Reeve wrote in The Atlantic that Bakker's doomsday food is overpriced. [63] A man named Jerry Crawford, who credits Bakker with saving his marriage, invested $25 million in a new ministry for Bakker in Blue Eye, Missouri, named Morningside. Production for The Jim Bakker Show moved to Morningside in 2008. [15]

Prophecies and statements Edit

In 2013, Bakker wrote Time Has Come: How to Prepare Now for Epic Events Ahead about end-time events. [64] Bakker has changed his views on prosperity theology. [65] In his 1980 book Eight Keys to Success, he stated, "God wants you to be happy, God wants you to be rich, God wants you to prosper." [66] [67] In his 1996 book, I Was Wrong, he admitted that the first time he actually read the Bible all the way through was in prison. Bakker also wrote that he realized that he had taken passages out of context and used them as prooftexts to support his prosperity theology. [68]

Bakker's revived show features a number of ministers who bill themselves as "prophets". He now says that "PTL" stands for "Prophets Talking Loud". [69]

In an October 2017 video, Bakker said that "God will punish those" who ridicule him [70] he has said that Hurricane Harvey was a judgment of God, and he blamed Hurricane Matthew on then-President Barack Obama. [71] [72] Bakker predicted that if then-President Donald Trump was impeached, Christians would begin a Second American Civil War. [73] He compared the 2017 Washington train derailment to the sinking of the RMS Titanic and stated the Amtrak train derailment was a warning from God. [74] He also claimed that he predicted the September 11 attacks of 2001, stating that he "saw 9/11 in 1999 before New Year's Eve" and that there would "be terrorism" and bombings in New York City and Washington, D.C." [75] A few days after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, he stated that in a dream "God came to him wearing a camouflage, a hunting vest, and an AR-15 rifle strapped to his back" and that God supported Trump's plan to arm teachers. [76] Following the death of Billy Graham on February 21, 2018, Bakker attended Graham's funeral and paid his respects, stating that Graham was the greatest preacher since Jesus, [77] and also remarking that Graham had visited him in prison. [78]

Ed Brayton called Bakker a false prophet in an article on the Patheos website, and Geoffrey Grider called him a false teacher on the Now The End Begins website. [79] [80] On the Stand in the Gap Today radio program, Pennsylvania Pastors Network president Sam Rohrer criticized Bakker's civil-war prediction. [81] Christian Today criticized Bakker's show for preying on "the most vulnerable kinds of people" and claimed that it had "no place on our TV screens." [82]

COVID-19 controversies Edit

Bakker sold colloidal silver supplements that he advertised as a panacea. In March 2020, the office of the Attorney General of New York ordered Bakker to cease making false medicinal claims about his supplements' alleged ability to cure the 2019-20 strains of coronavirus, and the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration also sent a warning letter to Bakker about his claims regarding the supplements and coronavirus. [83] [84] Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt and Arkansas attorney general Leslie Rutledge filed lawsuits against Bakker for allegedly pushing the supplements as a treatment for the virus. [85] [86] In his lawsuit against the state, Bakker is represented by former Missouri governor Jay Nixon, who has argued for the suit to be dismissed. Nixon says that the allegations made in the lawsuit are false, stating: "Bakker is being unfairly targeted by those who want to crush his ministry and force his Christian television program off the air." [87]

In April 2020, prohibited from receiving credit card transactions, Bakker disclosed to his viewers that his ministry was on the brink of filing for bankruptcy and urgently petitioned them for donations. [88] The following month, GEB America and World Harvest Television dropped Bakker's program from their networks after DirecTV-owner AT&T asked channels to reconsider airing the show. AT&T made the request of its channels in response to a deplatforming campaign from the liberal Christian group Faithful America. [89] [90]

On May 8, 2020, Lori Bakker announced that Jim Bakker had suffered a stroke that his son Jay described as "minor.” Lori stated that he would be taking a sabbatical from the program until he recovers. She blamed the stroke on Bakker's hard work on his show and wrote that he had described the criticism against him as "the most vicious attack that he has ever experienced.” [90] Bakker returned to his program for the first time following his stroke on July 8, 2020. [91]

On June 23, 2021, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced the settlement of the state's lawsuit against Bakker. Bakker and Morningside Church would be prohibited from saying silver solution could "diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure any disease or illness." Restitution of about $157,000 would also be paid to those who bought silver solution between February 12, 2020, and March 10, 2020. [92]


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