Bakker Guilty of Fleecing His TV Flock of $3 Million : Jury Takes 10 Hours to Decide
Disgraced TV evangelist Jim Bakker was convicted today of fleecing followers of $3.7 million so he could surround himself with everything from Rolls-Royces to diamonds to an air-conditioned doghouse. A federal jury deliberated only 10 hours before convicting him on all 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy for overselling time shares, or “partnerships,” at his ministry’s resort hotels to loyal followers of his PTL empire.
The 49-year-old baby-faced preacher could receive up to 120 years in prison and $5 million in fines. He was freed on $250,000 bail for sentencing Oct. 24.
‘Jim Jones Mentality’
Federal Judge Robert Potter said he was nervous about allowing bail because Bakker’s supporters were “so zealous they have a Jim Jones mentality. They think he walks on water, and he is an end-all and be-all.”
Prosecutors said Bakker diverted donations to live in style, buying fancy cars, Rolex watches and homes with gigantic walk-in closets, motorized bedroom drapes, gold-plated swan-shaped bathroom fixtures and a $500 shower curtain.
The evangelist and his wife, Tammy Faye, sat silently as the verdict was read. As they left the courtroom, supporters broke down in tears and shouted, “Oh, my God!”
Tammy Faye sang a hymn on the steps of the courthouse and declared: “It’s not over till it’s over. I have a great faith in the God I’ve served, and he will not let us down.”
Defense lawyer George Davis said he will appeal. “There is a court we can go to, and we will get justice,” he said.
“The prosecution did an excellent job. We kept looking for something from the defense, and we never saw it,” jury foreman Ricky Hill said.
Bakker was found guilty of defrauding supporters of $158 million by overselling time shares for lodging at his giant Heritage USA religious theme park in Ft. Mill, S.C., 12 miles from Charlotte.
In return for $1,000, buyers of the time shares, called life partnerships, were entitled to three nights of lodging each year for life at park hotels.
The prosecution charged that Bakker sold twice as many time shares as could be accommodated at the hotels, one of which was never completed.
In addition, Bakker was convicted of diverting $3.7 million of the money to buy luxuries.
At the height of its popularity, Bakker’s “Jim and Tammy Show” was seen on hundreds of cable television stations that had a potential audience of 13 million.
But his empire collapsed after it was revealed that Bakker had an affair with Jessica Hahn, a former church secretary in Massapequa, N.Y., a New York suburb, and the ministry paid her to hush it up.
Bakker resigned in March, 1987, and his ministry subsequently went bankrupt.
Shortly after the trial began, Bakker’s lawyers said he was unable to continue because he was hallucinating and hiding under a couch in their office.
Potter ordered a week of mental tests.
A psychiatrist found he was not mentally ill, saying he had merely suffered a panic attack.