Government Brings Up Possible Criminal Violations At PTL
FORT MILL, S.C. (AP) _ Government investigators have contacted PTL about possible criminal violations when the ministry was headed by Jim Bakker and his deputy, Richard Dortch, a newspaper reported today.
PTL chief executive officer Jerry Nims on Thursday told The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer that federal and state agencies approached the ministry this week. He declined to identify the agencies and said he did not know whether they have begun an investigation, the newspaper said.
Spokesmen for the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office in South Carolina would not say Thursday whether a broad criminal investigation has begun.
″I’m just not prepared at this point to comment one way or the other,″ said U.S. Attorney Vinton Lide.
Nims, one of the directors installed when Bakker stepped down in March, said he understood the agencies are interested in events that occurred before the new board and its chairman, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, took control.
″The questions raised were wire fraud, tax fraud, possible extortion, fraud and noncompliance with various state and federal statutes,″ Nims said.
The purpose of the contact, Nims said, was ″to meet and discuss the issues involved. And I can’t have any comment beyond that.″
An FBI spokesman said the bureau has been evaluating information from the media and others.
″If in our judgment there is a criminal violation, we will investigate,″ said spokesman Charlie Sheppard in Columbia. ″But we do not plan to announce the fact that we have initiated an investigation.″
IRS spokesman Les Witmer declined to comment Thursday. ″We can’t discuss any pending or potential investigations,″ he said.
Nims would not say whether the government agencies asked PTL to turn over documents or information. He said the ministry would cooperate with any inquiries from the government.
The investigation of possible extortion may relate to Bakker’s claim that he had been blackmailed when PTL paid $265,000 on behalf of Jessica Hahn in 1985, the newspaper said.
Miss Hahn, a former church secretary, had claimed she was emotionally damaged after a sexual encounter with Bakker in 1980.
Miss Hahn and her representative, Paul Roper of California, have denied blackmailing Bakker or PTL. Roper has said Miss Hahn had a legitimate claim and accepted the settlement in return for agreeing not to sue.
During a news conference last week, Nims and chief operating officer Harry Hargrave disclosed the existence of a communications system and telephone hookup that allowed eavesdropping on conversations inside PTL’s headquarters building, which could violate federal eavesdropping statues.
Federal law also makes it illegal to raise money for one purpose on TV and use it for another.
PTL documents show that by November PTL raised more than $49 million to finance a 21-story, $26.8 million Towers hotel. By March 31, PTL had paid $12 million for the still unfinished building.
And Thursday, Falwell said the ministry needs about $25 million in the next three months to finish the Towers and pay other bills.