Tammy To Host Television Show While Jim Bakker on Trial
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ Jim Bakker, the traveling evangelist who used his fund-raising talent to build a religious empire, will be looking for 12 more believers this week - in the jury box of a federal courtroom.
While Bakker’s lawyers begin selecting the jury for his fraud and conspiracy trial Monday in U.S. District Court in Charlotte, his wife, Tammy Bakker, will be in Orlando, Fla., being host of their revived daily television program.
″Tammy will be hosting the Jim and Tammy show by herself,″ Shirley Balmer, a spokeswoman for Jim and Tammy Ministries in Orlando, said last week. ″The program will be live, not taped in advance.″
Bakker, who left the PTL television empire he created during a sex-and- money scandal in 1987, relocated earlier this year to an almost empty shopping center in Orlando. The show is carried by several television stations.
Ms. Balmer said she did not know of any plans by Mrs. Bakker to attend her husband’s trial, and that Bakker was not planning to return to Orlando on weekends for services at his New Covenant Church.
Bakker is charged with eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. If convicted on all counts, he could be sentenced to 120 years in prison and ordered to pay more than $5 million in fines. Mrs. Bakker isn’t charged.
Prosecutors say Bakker and top aides at the ministry diverted more than $4 million of the $158 million contributed under various partnership programs to their personal uses.
Neither Bakker nor his lawyers are talking publicly about their defense strategy.
Bakker, however, has maintained he is innocent, and gave a glimpse of his possible defense last summer while being questioned about a lawsuit by accusing him of mismanaging PTL.
Bakker said he knew little about the ministry’s finances: ″I was a pastor, and a businessman I was not.″
Asked if PTL money was spent for his personal benefit, he replied: ″I would pay bills as they came in if they were mine. ... I have always told them, I said, ’Don’t ever, ever allow the ministry to pay for anything that I should be paying for.‴
After jury selection, opening arguments were scheduled to begin Aug. 28, but defense attorneys have renewed motions to move the trial because of pretrial publicity.
U.S. Magistrate Paul Taylor earlier rejected a similar motion, saying publicity had died down in the two years since Bakker left PTL. But Taylor said lawyers could renew their arguments before U.S. District Court Judge Robert Potter during jury selection.
The Bakkers have been pleading with their viewers this summer to contribute $1 million for Bakker’s defense fund. Mrs. Bakker, in a letter to supporters two months ago, said half of that amount had to be raised by the end of the month.
Ministry officials have declined to say how much has been raised, except to say that supporters have responded to the appeal.
Earlier appeals for $1,000 donations to buy ″lifetime partnerships″ at PTL are what landed Bakker in federal court.
In eight of the 11 partnership programs used at PTL, contributors were promised free lodging at the ministry’s Heritage USA Christian retreat and theme park at Fort Mill, S.C., in exchange for their one-time donation of $1,000.
But investigators say the money raised was spent on day-to-day operating costs of the ministry and to finance the lavish lifestyles of PTL executives rather than the mammoth hotel projects Bakker promoted on his television show.
Richard Dortch, Bakker’s former top assistant at the now-defunct PTL, pleaded guilty to four charges of fraud and conspiracy Aug. 8 and agreed to testify against his former boss.
The trial is expected to focus on the Bakkers’ lifestyle, much like the trial of James and David Taggart, two former aides who were convicted last month of income tax evasion. The two brothers, who face up to 25 years in prison and $1 million in fines each, are scheduled to be sentenced Friday.
Testimony at their trial showed they diverted $1.1 million in ministry funds to finance European trips, fur coats, matching Jaguar cars, Cartier jewelry, expensive furniture and an apartment in Manhattan’s Trump Tower.
Bakker resigned in March 1987 after The Charlotte Observer informed him it was ready to publish a story outlining his 1980 tryst with former New York church secretary Jessica Hahn and the use of ministry funds to buy her silence.
Bakker turned the ministry over to the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who put PTL under bankruptcy protection three months later after his staff discovered alleged financial irregularities and millions of dollars in unpaid debts.