In 1989, a federal jury convicted Jim Bakker of PTL-related fraud. He served nearly five years in prison.
But the televangelist has long insisted that he defrauded no one during his years at PTL near Charlotte. What he was really guilty of, he’s said and written over the years, was preaching and living an opulent lifestyle that contradicted Jesus’ message to love God, not money.
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The Bakker biography on the web site for “The Jim Bakker Show,” his TV ministry in Missouri, combines its narrative of his criminal case with a later civil class action suit, concluding that “his case was overturned.”
Here are the facts:
In 1989, a federal jury found Bakker guilty on 24 counts of conspiracy and wire and mail fraud. Specifically, the prosecution said, he defrauded PTL Lifetime Partners who paid $1,000 each for a free room in the 500-room Heritage Grand Hotel for three nights a year for life. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison, but that was later reduced.
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.
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.
The Bakker bio on his show’s web site acknowledges that the televangelist was sent to prison “on charges of overbooking the lodging space at Heritage USA.” But then it references the later class action civil suit that PTL’s Partners lost. That federal jury’s decision, the bio says, affirmed “what Pastor Jim said since the very first day he was indicted. His case was overturned.”
It was not overturned; the criminal case and civil case are unrelated.
Staff writer Ames Alexander contributed.