A Sleuth in the Louisiana Holy War : Snooping by Private Eye Led to Swaggart’s Downfall
Bourbon Street is awash in panhandlers and drunks when the private eye in white Reeboks and faded jeans nudges his two-tone Ford Bronco about the French Quarter, parts the tourists, cruises past Ripley’s Believe It or Not into a tight space, hops out and adjusts his hardware.
“Can you see my gun?” asks Reed Scott Bailey, tucking his 9-millimeter Browning with a 14-shot clip of hollow points into his waistband. “There’s an old police saying: ‘I’d rather be up on the stand testifying why I killed him than the other way around.’ ”
No, in fact, the Browning fits neatly into the small of his back, beneath a wrinkled gray blazer as he picks up the scent: a blond hunk with a tattoo and a nickname, Pony Boy. He’s the one in the tank top and gray chinos now lurching from a bar, who sashays down the street into a mob of tourists, a male stripper on his way to work.
Bailey makes his move, bolts from the shadows.
He Closes In
He’s sweating slightly, not nerves but humidity, a sticky night heat that sucks up the Mississippi and spits it right back on all comers. For a second, he loses Pony Boy in the crowd, then spies his quarry, closes in and plops a large, bony hand on his shoulder.
“My name’s Bailey,” says the 6-foot-3 man with prematurely gray hair. “I’m a private detective.”
So, Bailey tells him the score: He’s hunting anyone who might have any information regarding the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart. “I hear you might know someone.”
“Who the hell is Jimmy Swaggart?” asks Pony Boy.
Bailey shrugs it off, moves on down his list. “If he’s out there, I’ll find him,” he says. “I’ve never gone looking for someone and come up empty-handed.”
So it goes for “God’s private eye,” as some joke back home in Lake Charles, La., about the 37-year-old former Catholic altar boy who grew up to be a deputy sheriff, then took to the life of a tenacious sleazehound. Bailey is the gumshoe hired by the Rev. Marvin Gorman in his ongoing $90-million defamation suit against Swaggart and others.
When the Assemblies of God defrocked Swaggart for spurning its discipline over what sources describe as his lifelong fascination with pornography and an encounter with a prostitute, Bailey was still on the case, a laid-back sleuth who goes by the nickname “Magnum Poo-Yie,” which is nouveau Cajun slang for “hot dog!”
America’s Holy War has jumped from the television pulpit to spy vs. spy on the bayou, as clergy enlist private eyes like Scott Bailey to walk point in their earthly conflicts. So far, Bailey has done well for his side, learning enough to allow Gorman to pursue his lawsuit, which is on appeal after a local judge dismissed it as an internal church matter.
Gorman was once a rising star, a featured guest on the former “Jim and Tammy Show,” about to hook onto the satellite and go big time. But, he charges in his suit, Swaggart ruined him by spreading lies about “numerous” adulterous affairs. So Gorman hired Tulsa attorney Tommy Frasier, who tapped Hunter Lundy as his Louisiana counsel--and got Scott Bailey in the bargain. Bailey works regularly for Lundy’s Lake Charles firm.
Bailey hit the trail, interviewing people who might back up Gorman’s suspicions that Swaggart had conspired with others to bring him down with X-rated stories. In the course of his investigation, Bailey collected a dossier on Swaggart--in case Swaggart’s character became an issue, he says. Included are the now celebrated color photos purportedly showing Swaggart with a prostitute outside the Travel Inn.
Those were taken surreptitiously by Randy Gorman, his client’s son, sources say. The minister’s son had become a sort of rogue Bailey operative, then became a bit overzealous and courted the prostitute to get information. Randy Gorman will not comment, nor will Bailey or Lundy. “We just try to get the job done,” Bailey says.
Gorman, in his lawsuit, admitted to only one adulterous liaison, but says Swaggart pressed on to destroy him, lobbying for swift, evangelical justice. After the Assemblies of God defrocked Gorman in 1986, his TV ministry collapsed and he filed for bankruptcy with $2 million in debts.
So it came to pass: Bailey, the man hired to resurrect Gorman’s virtue, played field commander in amassing evidence that led to the downfall of America’s leading televangelist, Jimmy Swaggart.
On the morning after the French Quarter dead-end, a waitress in the airport Ramada Inn coffee shop sets down two eggs over easy. It’s 7. Marvin Gorman bows his head to say grace. Bailey squirms in his seat, fork on hold. Amen.
“I was afraid all this garbage would hurt church attendance, but we’re up 20% to 25%,” Gorman says. “They’re putting two and two together.”
Gorman exudes down-to-earth charm, a square-faced preacher with designer glasses and natty Italian shoes who now conducts services in a drafty warehouse, having lost his former church to the scandal.
“In the Bible, they called ‘em ‘spies,’ but this is exactly what Moses did when he sent 10 (scouts) to the land of Canaan,” instructing them to check out “the opposition” and file a report, Gorman says. “Scott has been diligent in his efforts.
“He’s my ‘Magnum.’ ”
While Bailey snoops for Gorman, rival spooks are suspected of donning trench coats for Swaggart, and all manner of cat-and-mouse, rumor, innuendo and intrigue are afoot. Bailey believes Swaggart’s men tailed him a few weeks ago to a hometown bar called Scarlett O’s.
“This guy sat down alone at the next table and kept trying to hear what we were saying,” he says. “It was pretty obvious.”
“Bailey thinks we’re following him?” says Larry Carroll, a Baton Rouge private detective hired to check reports about Swaggart and illicit sex by an unidentified client he presumes to be a ministry supporter. “Good. Maybe we can create a little paranoia.” (Carroll says he mails his reports to a post office box in North Texas, and gets checks by return mail from the mystery client.)
In fact, Carroll did visit Lake Charles shortly after Swaggart abdicated his pulpit, apparently to check Bailey out. At the courthouse he collared John Sinquefield, first assistant district attorney for Calcasieu Parish, “to ask some questions about Bailey,” says Sinquefield, who vouched for Bailey.
“I see it all as a comedy,” says Hunter Lundy, Gorman’s attorney. “Scott’s not on trial, but Jimmy Swaggart’s going to be on trial, if we have to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court. I guess they’re getting desperate.”
Swaggart’s attorney, William Treeby, has refused to comment.
Carroll conducts business from a dark blue Mercedes 380 SE with a car phone. Alas, Bailey’s Prussian blue Porsche 911 Cabriolet got repossessed (but that’s another story), so it’s the Bronco or an old Datsun 300Z for now. Both charge $50 an hour, but give their preacher clients a “discount.”
Bailey wonders what Carroll looks like, whether he’s ever seen him in his rear view.
Carroll says Bailey will only become “a prime player” if Gorman’s lawsuit goes to trial. “Then there would be depositions and Bailey would be opened up to a lot of cross-examination. There’s a lot of stuff that could be dug up on Scott Bailey.”
Bailey figures Carroll is out to “neutralize” him.
Bailey figured it out after dropping into a gay bar in the French Quarter the other night. Surprise: Straddling a stool alongside rouged-out transvestites, sat a brunette, all woman, and a pro at that, drinking coffee and tugging on a Marlboro. Their eyeballs locked. “Scott,” she teased, “you had me fooled.”
“I’m here on business,” he said, not skipping a beat. “I don’t figure you’re doing much (business) in here.”
She was Peggy Carriere, the woman who told the nation that Swaggart had once propositioned her on the bordello strip of Airline Highway. She told Bailey that Carroll had later asked her to take a lie detector test.
“I told them the same story I told you,” she said, “and afterward, they told me everything I’d said about Swaggart was a lie. They kept asking, ‘What did y’all do at your motel?’ I said, ‘We didn’t do nothing but talk.’ ” She said they also asked, “ ‘Did Bailey pay you?’ ”
Bailey says he never pays for dirt. “I told you right from the start, ‘I can’t pay for information. If I pay, it’s not worth anything.’ Didn’t I?”
Carroll scoffs. “When she told us she’d been to Gorman’s revivals, I thought it was a little funny,” he says. “She was highly suspicious . . . just too available to anyone who wanted to interview her.”
In fact, Carroll says he was shocked when she accepted his invitation to submit to a polygraph. “I said, ‘It’s obvious someone sent her over to see what kind of questions we want to ask, see where we are in our investigation.’ ” Bailey says it wasn’t him.
“We have a complete tape of our session,” says Carroll, offering to play it. “She’s not telling the truth.”
Counters Carriere: “I told them, ‘I’m sorry you believe I lied, but God knows and I know, and that’s all that matters to me. I know what I saw.’ ”
Carroll says what he most wants to know is who yanked Swaggart’s tire valves Oct. 17 after the preacher was captured on film outside the motel with prostitute Debra Murphree. Did Bailey’s boys just get a little overeager? Bailey winks. No comment.
Assemblies of God officials who have seen the photos say both prostitute and preacher can be identified. With Swaggart’s tires disabled, Marvin Gorman had enough time to drive over and play “Gotcha!” with his nemesis, sources say.
Carroll wonders if, perhaps, it was a setup, if Swaggart in some way became the victim when he was forced to remain at the motel. He says he aims to turn over anything he develops to local authorities.
Now it’s Bailey’s turn to snicker:
“I’d like to know how you can hypnotize a grown man like Jimmy Swaggart to drive 60 miles, out of his kingdom, over the moat, to Airline Highway? We didn’t have to follow him. We had information he was out there. It was like waiting in a duck blind.”
It’s a dirty game, but Bailey doesn’t mind. “A lot of the people I watch are scum trying to get something for nothing,” he says.
He’s doggedly hunted down malingerers attempting to bilk companies with phony back injuries, capturing their heavy lifting on his video camera. He chased one heiress in his Porsche, hitting 120 m.p.h. over rutted country roads, just to deliver a subpoena.
Bailey’s got standards. “People come to me all the time and want me to tap a phone,” he says. “I always say, ‘Hit the road, buddy.’ I’m not going to jail for anyone but myself and my immediate family, and maybe a couple of good friends.”
Some rivals snipe about his ego, his cool swagger. Bailey says they’re just jealous--of billings that he claims hit upward of $100,000 a year, his speedboat, his scratch golf game, his good times. “I’ve got all the business in town worth having,” he says. “I’m king of the hill, and they’d love to knock me down. If they were any good, they might be working the Swaggart case.”
He says he won’t take just any case. “I won’t investigate police officers,” he says. “I won’t do anything I don’t feel right about. A lot of people just want to get even, have the last laugh, but I won’t be used like that.” He grins. “Unless I feel it’s justified.”
In one domestic case, he tracked the wife of an oil executive: After trips with her “girlfriends,” she always came home with expensive clothes. He chartered a plane to give chase to Corpus Christi, where he saw the woman and a man vanish to a private floor of a hotel.
Bailey dashed into the kitchen, grabbed a tray, zipped up the service elevator, set up a stakeout at the end of the hall, Canon A-1 in his lap, zoom lens on autofocus. At 3 a.m., “I got them coming out of the room, hugging,” he says. “Her lover was worth $50 million. I got my man his divorce for adultery. She got no alimony. It was a fun chase. Once you get to the hotel room, it’s like shooting ducks in a pond.”
Only sometimes the “ducks” shoot back, like the Louisiana farmer who claimed he was disabled by an oil rig injury. He had discovered the detective in his drainage ditch, in full camouflage gear, his face greased black, after Bailey filmed him riding a tractor. He shot at Bailey with a high-powered rifle. There are no medals in his business, “no Purple Hearts,” Bailey says. “You just get paid.”
He was 2 when his father, an oil rig worker, was killed in a jeep accident in Libya. He has few mementos, except the laminated dollar bill a family friend won from his dad that year. He gently unfolds it from his wallet, taking a break for a cup of midnight coffee in a greasy spoon off the bordello strip of Airline Highway. There’s writing on it. “Crap game, Ralid, Morocco,” he reads. “I carry it wherever I go.”
Bailey grew up in Sulphur, La., raised by his mother and late stepfather, an engineer. After Boy Scouts and high school, he bowled in tournaments for a summer, flunked out of college, did odd jobs, and finally got hired as a deputy with the Calcasieu Parish sheriff’s office, “a late bloomer,” he says.
John W. Fryar, now chief parish detective, hired Bailey in 1971 but didn’t know what to make of him. “We called him ‘Supercop Scott,’ ” he says. “He’d never go home. When the shift was over, he’d want to keep riding around.”
Some wondered why Bailey wore three guns: one in a shoulder holster, one on his hip, another strapped to his ankle. One ex-wife says it was difficult to hug him when he was off to work, with all the heavy armament. “But he always wanted to be prepared,” she says.
Like dozens of other deputies, Bailey jumped ship in 1976 under the iron fist of the late Ham Reid, once the most powerful sheriff in Louisiana. He found work running security in a Texas steel mill beset by union violence, moved on to police a grocery chain in West Virginia, lost wife No. 2 (there have been four) to the rigors of a long-distance commute, briefly hustled industrial chemicals, then wandered back home to sell cars.
“He was a good car salesman, handles people well,” says Jack Hebert, a former parish chief of detectives turned Pontiac-GMC dealer in Sulphur, who hired Bailey to sell Mercedes, Hondas, Subarus and the like. “He has abilities, trained under me as an investigator, too. He should be real good.”
By 1982, he was itching for police work again, hung out his shingle as an investigator and helped a chain-saw manufacturer win a $500,000 liability suit brought by a tree-cutter after a freak accident. Word spread. A friend offered a free office. He borrowed furniture, hired a secretary.
Last year, attorney Lundy blessed him with the Gorman lawsuit, which he pursued with a vengeance between other cases. In March, flanked by a court reporter, Bailey identified prostitute Debra Murphree as the woman in the pictures with Swaggart. She had slimmed down since the day the photos were snapped from behind a drawn curtain in a nearby room, but he says she was able to describe her wardrobe that day, down to a short-sleeve cotton blouse in photos Bailey held. And he recognized the tattoos: “Debbie” was on her left biceps, a crude dotted cross on her right. “Those tattoos are like fingerprints,” he said. “It’s her beyond all reasonable doubt.”
When the Assemblies of God defrocked Swaggart, Lundy was upbeat about the news. “It just substantiates what we’ve said all along, that what Marvin Gorman charged in his lawsuit was true, and we’re going to be able to prove it in court,” he declared.
Said Bailey: “It’s like David and Goliath. They have more troops and more money. We run out of both all the time. Let’s just hope God is still on David’s side.”
All decline to discuss details of the case, but Lundy says, “We never would have filed the suits if we didn’t have information to back them up.”
That’s where Bailey came in.
Three days before 200 general presbyters of the Assemblies of God assembled in Springfield, Mo., last month, to mull suspending Swaggart for two years, Bailey found a mystery minister knocking on his motel door here, claiming to be an emissary from the denomination, seeking help in learning more about Swaggart. A reporter happened to be in the room.
“What do you need?” asked Bailey.
“I need as much proof as you can come up with,” said the minister, who asked to remain nameless, fearing Swaggart retribution. “I personally want to kick him so hard in the you-know-what. . . . He’s conned the country.”
“Let’s talk generalities,” Bailey suggested, worried that the minister was a double agent. “I don’t know what it takes to hang someone in a church.”
Suddenly, the minister froze. “Good Lord!” he said, flinching at Bailey’s gun on the bed.
“I don’t always have the Lord looking out for me,” the private eye said.