Bakker Ordered To Pay $130 Million to Former Contributors
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ A jury Friday decided PTL founder Jim Bakker should pay nearly $130 million to his former contributors, a decision attorneys said made it unlikely the jailed televangelist’s followers will collect.
″The only thing my client owns is a 45-year lease on a 5-by-7 room in a Minnesota prison,′ said Gene Carr, one of Bakker’s attorneys. Bakker received a 45-year sentence for fraud and conspiracy after a criminal trial last year.
Friday’s judgment came on the fifth day of jury deliberations in a class- action lawsuit that went to trial Oct. 24.
The other defendants - accounting firm Deloitte, Haskins & Sells; David Taggart, Bakker’s former personal aide; and Aimee Cortese, a minister from New York who served on PTL’s board of directors - were not liable for any damages, the jury ruled.
Also Friday, just 10 miles south of here in Fort Mill, S.C., California faith healer Morris Cerullo closed a deal to buy the bankrupt PTL ministry for $42.5 million.
The ministry includes the Heritage USA religious theme park and two 500- room luxury hotels, five restaurants, a shopping mall, a water park, a conference center, housing projects and more than 1,500 undeveloped acres.
″My client’s integrity has been vindicated,″ said Jim Williams, one of Deloitte’s attorneys. ″This has been a tough three years for them.″
Tom Anderson, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, conceded after the verdict it’s unlikely his clients will collect any of the award from Bakker. Bakker earns 12 cents an hour working at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn.
″In order to collect any money it must have come from Deloitte Haskins & Sells,″ he said. ″We don’t know of any deep pockets as far as Jim Bakker goes.″
The accounting firm, renamed Deloitte & Touche after a merger, is the nation’s fourth-largest.
The lawsuit claim totaled $757 million when it was filed in 1987 by about 145,000 contributors that PTL called ″lifetime partners.″ They alleged Bakker conspired with other PTL officials and accountants to set up secret bank accounts to give Bakker, his wife, Tammy Faye, and other ministry leaders huge bonuses.
Anderson, who spent more than $2 million of his own money on the case, said he was ″very, very disappointed″ with the verdict.
″I feel that Deloitte Haskins & Sells got away with something and I don’t like it,″ Anderson said. ″The money is not the worst thing, I just don’t think justice was done.″
Anderson said he will appeal.
The jury deliberated for nearly 28 hours. Jury forewoman Denise Elsner said the panel knew that any damages against Bakker would be virtually uncollectable.
A bankruptcy trustee closed Bakker’s Heritage USA theme park last year, and Bakker was fined $500,000 when he was imprisoned.
She said jurors agreed that Bakker defrauded his flock but ″we didn’t feel he was a racketeer,″ a finding that automatically would have tripled damages.
Guy Forcucci, a tax partner at Deloitte, Haskins & Sells, began to cry when the jury’s decision was made and gave an associate a victory punch.
″I just have gratitude the jury focused on the issues and not the innuendo,″ he said. ″This has been hell for me the past three years. I just hope this is the last chapter in the PTL saga.″
The jury said Bakker should pay $129,618,000 in actual damages and $129,618 in punitive damages. The jury said Bakker would be required to pay punitive damages because he committed common law fraud.
The jury did not elaborate on how it arrived at the figures.
Another large accounting firm, Philadelphia-based Laventhol & Horwath, was named in the lawsuit, but the proceeding against the firm was halted in midtrial when it filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy law.
During their deliberations, the jurors had asked to see several items, including a video of Bakker hawking lifetime partnerships, Bakker’s criminal indictments, various brochures about lifetime partnership programs and a bill sent by former PTL builder Roe Messner on a payment of $265,000 to Jessica Hahn.
Bakker resigned from his Fort Mill, S.C., ministry on March 19, 1987, amid a sex and money scandal involving Ms. Hahn.
Mrs. Elsner described jury deliberations as festive, yet ″excruciating.″
″It was not like ‘L.A. Law.’ It was more like ’The Three Stooges,‴ she quipped.
″We’re all going to go home now and have a nervous breakdown,″ said Mrs. Elsner, a social worker.
Cerullo, head of San Diego-based Morris Cerullo World Evangelism, did not attend Friday’s negoatiations on the sale. In September, he closed a $7 million deal for the former PTL television studios and satellite network and began a monthlong telethon that raised about $11 million of the money he needed to buy the rest of Heritage USA.
Secured creditors, who have deeds to parts of the PTL estate as collateral for their investments or loans, stand to get about $39 million from the sale. But non-secured creditors, the donors who won Friday’s settlement, stand to receive little or nothing from the sale.