URGENT Court Lowers Sentence For Televangelist Jim Bakker
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ A federal judge Tuesday reduced the sentence of former televangelist Jim Bakker to eight years. His attorneys said Bakker might be eligible for parole in one year.
The reduction was the second for Bakker, who originally was sentenced to 45 years in prison for a fraud conviction relating to his now-defunct PTL organization.
U.S. District Judge Graham Mullen had already lowered that original sentence to 18 years in response to an appeals court ruling. Then he further reduced it Tuesday, calling even an 18-year sentence ″unduly harsh.″
Bakker was convicted in October 1989 on 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy. Prosecutors said he bilked donors out of more than $150 million by promising them free lodging at his Heritage USA theme park in South Carolina.
In arguing for the reduced sentence at a hearing last month, defense attorney Harold Bender said that the televangelist was a model prisoner. He is being held at a medium-security prison in Minnesota.
Before Tuesday’s ruling, Bakker would not have been eligible for parole until August 1995, after he served one-third of his 18-year sentence.
Bakker did not attend the November hearing, but his attorney read from a letter he wrote to Mullen in which he said he was sorry for his sins and took responsibility for his actions.
″I beg for your forgiveness and mercy,″ Bakker had written.
Prosecutors had argued against any further reductions in Bakker’s sentence, saying he had not admitted he defrauded his followers.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerry Miller said 116,000 PTL lifetime partners had contributed more than $160 million to the ministry and then were left with nothing when it collapsed.
Bakker’s original 45-year sentence was reduced last year after an appeals court dismissed it. The appeals court said remarks by trial judge, U.S. District Judge Robert Potter, about ″money-grubbing preachers″ were ″too intemperate to be ignored.″ Mullen then issued the 18-year sentence.
Bakker and his then-wife, Tammy, were hosts of the popular ″PTL Club″ television show before it was revealed in 1987 that Bakker had had a tryst with a former church secretary and that his organization had paid her money afterward to keep quiet.