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PTL Bankruptcy Judge Calls Bakker ‘Sawed-Off Runt’

January 2, 1989

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ The judge who presided over PTL’s bankruptcy proceedings said he received threats during the case, and couldn’t understand why Jim Bakker’s followers ″were interested in that little, sawed-off runt.″

Rufus Reynolds, who retired Saturday at age 81 as a U.S. bankruptcy judge, was guarded by U.S. marshals during the bankruptcy proceedings as the FBI investigated the threats.

″They didn’t say, ‘I’m going to kill you.’ They said, ’The Lord’s going to take you,‴ Reynolds said.

″I didn’t know Christians could be so critical. They would just chew me out.″

When a woman called the bankruptcy court in Columbia, S.C., to find out if he was a Christian, ″I said, ’You tell her I was when I started this case, but now I plead the Fifth Amendment.‴

Reynolds said television ministries are ″wide open″ for mismanagement or corruption.

″I think Congress should pass a very strong act forcing the IRS ... to make them comply with an accounting,″ Reynolds said. ″We have all kinds of laws protecting consumers. Religion is just another consumer item, just the same as selling soap or washing powders or aspirin.″

Reynolds also said he was amazed at the response to the travails that brought down Bakker’s evangelistic empire.

″What puzzled me was why people were interested in that little, sawed-off runt,″ Reynolds said.

Bakker, who resigned from PTL in 1987, responded Sunday, saying: ″I am shocked to find Judge Reynolds so prejudiced toward us, and to hear of him making fun of us and the PTL partners. ...

″He should not have tried the PTL case with these feelings against us.″

The ministry filed for protection under federal bankruptcy laws in June 1987, three months after Bakker resigned from PTL.

Two months ago, Reynolds ordered Bakker, his wife, Tammy, and former aide David Taggart to repay PTL nearly $7.7 million in benefits he found to be excessive. Last month, he approved the sale of PTL assets to a Canadian businessman.

Also last month, a federal grand jury indicted Bakker and former top aide Richard Dortch on charges including fraud and conspiracy, accusing them of diverting more than $4 million in PTL money for their own benefit. Two other former PTL officials were indicted.

Upon his retirement, Reynolds sand he left the PTL case discouraged and somewhat cynical.

From the beginning, Reynolds said he believed the only way to save PTL was to keep it intact as a religious operation.

″It’s a one-purpose center, a religious center - a wonderful idea,″ Reynolds said. ″If Bakker had employed reasonable business principles, just on an average, they wouldn’t owe a dime.″

Reynolds said he was disappointed at the outcome of the case.

″When you’ve had 40,000 cases - at least; when you’ve had success in lots of them, the majority of them; when you take the one most publicized, best known, and you make a failure, you can’t feel very good. It’s that simple,″ Reynolds said.

″I’m going to take a bath and forget about it,″ Reynolds said. ″Someone asked me what was the best part of the whole case. I said, ’Getting out.‴

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