Oral Roberts University Cuts Deal to Buy PTL Network
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ Oral Roberts University has agreed to pay $6 million in cash for the PTL satellite network once headed by Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, but the ministry’s court-appointed trustee said Thursday the deal is not final.
The trustee, Columbia attorney Dennis Shedd, said he is still hoping to sell the network and other PTL assets as a package before the contract with Oral Roberts is approved by a U.S. bankruptcy judge.
Shedd said he signed the pact with the Tulsa, Okla.-based university founded by evangelist Oral Roberts because he wants to force action by buyers interested in acquiring the entire PTL complex.
He added, however, that he did not yet have such an offer although ″there are four or five groups that are seriously looking at″ the whole package. Shedd declined to identify them.
″I do have a firm deal with Oral Roberts University. However, in the contract, I expressly reserved the right to sell all the assets until the point of approval of the sale of just the network,″ Shedd said in a telephone interview.
The complex includes the satellite network, the 500-acre Heritage USA Christian retreat in Fort Mill and 1,700 acres of undeveloped land in upstate South Carolina.
Shedd said he made the deal ″because I have a cash offer and I think it makes good business sense to sell this asset. This asset is essentially deteriorating. ... Plus, it also works into the broader scheme to sell the whole property.″
Shedd filed legal papers in Columbia Thursday asking U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Thurmond Bishop to approve the sale to Roberts on May 31 - in effect the deadline for prospective bidders to submit offers for the entire package.
The actual contract signing, which was done by fax machine and air express service between Tulsa and Columbia, was completed Wednesday and included a $1 million down payment.
″I plan to sell it one way or the other and this is the only firm offer I have for any substantial part of the estate,″ Shedd said.
Richard Roberts, son of the 72-year-old faith-healer, said university regents approved the offer this week.
″We believe it is important to provide 24-hour Christian broadcasting to a global audience assuring that God’s word will be taken to every man’s world,″ Roberts said in a statement.
Roberts told the Tulsa World the agreement was reached about two weeks ago but that ministry officials needed seven days to raise the money for the down payment.
″We were able to raise the $1 million from our regents and from several of our very dear prayer partners,″ Roberts told the newspaper.
The assets of the Bakkers’ former religious broadcasting empire have been on the block since April 1988, a year after Jim Bakker resigned in a sex-and- money scandal.
Bakker was convicted last fall of fraudulently raising $158 million from PTL contributors and is serving a 45-year prison sentence in a federal prison in Minnesota.
The Heritage USA retreat has been shut since September, when Canadian businessman Stephen Mernick failed to close on his contract to buy the assets for $65 million.
The broadcast network, however, continues to operate with a skeleton staff of about 10 employees. It broadcasts shows produced by other evangelists such as Jerry Falwell, James Robison and Roberts’ son, Richard.
As for the network’s future, Shedd told The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, ″My understanding is they want to operate it as a religious network.″
The contract gives Roberts all the network’s satellite and cable leases and all of PTL’s television production equipment, which will be moved to Tulsa.
Shedd said Roberts has already given him a $1 million deposit, which will be refunded if all PTL’s assets are sold as a package to another buyer.
The remaining $5 million is due in cash at the closing, which is to come 10 days after Federal Communications Commission approval transferring the broadcasting license, The Observer reported.
″I think it’s a good price,″ Shedd said.
At the time PTL declared bankruptcy in June 1987, the satellite network was carried on 1,300 cable systems that had 12 million subscribers.
According to court papers filed Thursday, that has slipped to 800 systems with 6.4 million subscribers, The Observer reported.
Besides PTL, there are only four other religious satellite networks in the United States: Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), the Southern Baptist Convention’s ACTS network, Paul Crouch’s Trinity Network and Jimmy Allen’s LIFE TV.
Other evangelists such as Roberts buy time on those four networks.