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PTL To Sell Assets To Canadian Businessman

October 5, 1988

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ PTL announced Tuesday it had negotiated a sale of its assets for $115 million to a Canadian businessman, a month after PTL founder Jim Bakker failed in his efforts to return to the helm of his television ministry.

Stephen R. Mernick, 34, of Toronto, will pay $50 million at closing under terms of the deal and pay the balance over five years, according to a statement handed out prior to a news conference by a Mernick spokesman.

Mernick has interests in real estate, clothing, garbage collection and landfills, the statement said.

PTL has been under the supervision of U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Rufus Reynolds, who told PTL trustee M.L. ″Red″ Benton that a buyer must be found by Oct. 14 or he would order the assets sold to pay creditors. The ministry is estimated to owe more than $130 million.

Mernick was not at Tuesday’s news conference. An Orthodox Jew, he was in Toronto and didn’t travel to Charlotte because Tuesday was the Jewish holiday of Simhat Torah.

″His primary interest as a businessman is to get the maximum return on his investment,″ Charlotte attorney Joseph Kluttz said at a news conference.

PTL’s property, mostly in Fort Mill, S.C., includes a television studio, a hotel and shopping center, a campground, amusement park and a church. Private housing also has been developed on the property.

Bakker, who resigned as head of PTL last year after admitting to adultery, made a $172 million offer last month for the ministry but couldn’t raise the money.

″Tammy and I remain committed to the restoration of the ministry of PTL,″ Bakker said in a statement through his attorney. ″If the present offer is agreeable to the creditors, the partners and the court, and God’s will is satisfied with the respect to the ministry of PTL, we will be happy with that outcome.″

Kluttz said the contract was signed with Benton on Monday after about three weeks of negotiations.

Benton also did not attend the news conference. But Kluttz distributed a statement from Benton saying he would recommend approval of the bid to Reynolds later this week.

PTL’s religious functions have been separated from its other operations, and Heritage USA Church is leasing back its facilities from PTL to continue on-site worship and Christian TV show production.

In a Sept. 15 letter to Benton, Mernick wrote: ″While I am not a Christian, I have a great deal of respect for the depth of the religious feeling of the many thousands of Christians that have supported the Heritage Ministry over the years.″

Mernick cautioned that he could not commit himself on the ultimate disposition of the property, but left the door open to keeping at least some of the property as a religious park.

PTL filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code in June 1987. Three months earlier, Bakker quit the ministry after admitting he had a sexual encounter with church secretary Jessica Hahn. Charges of mismanagement and grossly inflated salaries for the Bakkers and top aides resulted in an IRS investigation of PTL and a lawsuit by the ministry to recover $52 million from the Bakkers and their chief assistant.

PTL’s trustee also considered a bid for $113 million from Canadian real estate executive Peter Thomas. Benton said last week that another group of investors from New York and Washington also were interested in the property.

A hearing on Oct. 17, at which the judge is expected to hear arguments from creditors seeking liquidation of the assets, has been set in Columbia.

At Heritage USA, the PTL complex in Fort Mill, staff members said they knew little about the new owner or his plans but were relieved a deal had been struck.

″Most of the staff here right now, his name is just being filtered down. Until more information is disseminated through the news media, I think the initial reaction from the staff is going to be ’Who?‴ said Jerry Knode, retail director for Heritage USA.

″But I think there’s going to be a real sigh of relief that everything has come to a conclusion. All of us have been through the wringer, and we’re glad the ringer has stopped.″

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