Jim Bakker Gets 45 Years in Prison, $500,000 Fine : Eligible for Parole in 10 Years
Fallen television evangelist Jim Bakker, who lost his PTL empire in a sex and money scandal, was sentenced to 45 years in prison and fined $500,000 today for defrauding his followers to pay for his extravagant life style.
He will be eligible for parole in 10 years.
“I’m deeply sorry for those I have hurt,” Bakker, 49, said before he was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Potter. “I have sinned. But never in my life did I intend to defraud.”
Judge Potter has been nicknamed “Maximum Bob” for his penchant to hand down stiff sentences.
Bakker shook his head in disbelief while a federal prosecutor presented arguments, as did his daughter, Tammy Sue Chapman. Bakker’s wife, Tammy Faye, did not attend the court session.
Jessica Hahn, the church secretary whose sexual tryst with Bakker led to the hush money scandal that caused him to lose control of PTL in 1987, said in a television interview that she is not satisfied with the sentence.
“In my opinion, I still feel like it won’t add up to the years that people worked to save up money to give to PTL.”
The television evangelist was convicted on Oct. 5 of 24 counts charging he defrauded followers of his television ministry, selling lodging guarantees at his Christian retreat when he knew no rooms were available.
Followers sent more than $158 million to become “lifetime partners,” which was supposed to give them annual lodging rights for the rest of their lives.
The jury found that Bakker used more than $3.7 million to buy luxurious homes, fancy cars, jewelry and expensive vacations.
In a sentencing memo, Justice Department fraud specialist Deborah Smith and Assistant U.S. Atty. Jerry Miller asked Potter that Bakker be ordered to pay restitution. Unsettled claims total between $90 million to $100 million, according to lawyers representing the partners.
Prosecutors said when Bakker was indicted that the maximum fine could be more than $5 million. But when they filed the recommendation, they cited the Criminal Fine Enforcement Act of 1984, which allows a maximum fine to be no more than twice the highest fine allowed for any count in the case.
Bakker had faced a maximum sentence of 120 years.
“Every time there was a fork in the road and one led to a lighter sentence and one led to a heavier sentence, Jim took the one that led to the heavier sentence,” former U.S. Atty. Mike Scofield said before the sentencing. “When Jim got on the courthouse steps and said he was not guilty and showed a complete lack of remorse and contrition, that’s going to hurt him. That means a lot to Judge Potter.”
Bakker’s attorney, Harold Bender, attached character references from Bakker supporters to his three-page sentencing recommendation and urged the judge to consider alternatives to prison.
Bender asked the court to “temper its justice with mercy and consider reasonable alternatives and allow this defendant the benefit of the court’s compassion and mercy.”
During the trial, which began Aug. 28 and lasted nearly six weeks, defense attorneys had called 75 witnesses.