Bakkers Accuse Falwell in Second Day of For-Pay Phone Service
NEW YORK (AP) _ Jim and Tammy Bakker claimed today that the Rev. Jerry Falwell snatched their PTL ministry away after warning them about a hostile takeover by rival televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, and promised pay callers in a recorded message that ″we’ll talk more about it tomorrow.″
The Bakkers, in the second day of their for-pay phone service, again denied asking Falwell to take over PTL last March after Jim Bakker was forced to resign because of his sexual encounter with church secretary Jessica Hahn.
Falwell and his associates ″actually came to our home I believe with the plan in their hearts and minds to take over PTL. ... even though they came to say that they were saving PTL for us,″ Bakker says.
Tammy Bakker says that Falwell called Bakker’s then-associate, the Rev. Richard Dortch, and said he had documents to prove that Swaggart wanted to take over, telling Dortch, ″I need to talk to Jim about it.″
Falwell, who also runs an independent Baptist ministry out of Lynchburg, Va., has maintained that Bakker asked him to take over PTL, while Swaggart has denied any takeover intentions.
Callers are charged $1.50 for the first minute and 35 cents for each additional minute of the messages, which run two to three minutes and are changed daily, said Fred Weiner, vice chairman of Phone Programs, a New York- based company.
Meanwhile today, The Washington Post reported that a man has claimed to have had an affair with Miss Hahn before her tryst with Bakker, who she maintains took advantage of her when she was still a virgin. Two other men have said they had affairs with her later, and one claimed she told him about an encounter prior to her meeting with Bakker.
Rocco Riccobono, 35, a former member of Miss Hahn’s church in Massapequa, N.Y., said that in 1978 Miss Hahn, then 18, seduced him on the couch in his apartment after his pregnant wife fell asleep.
″When I read she was saying she was a virgin, I flipped out,″ he told the newspaper. ″She’s a manipulator, but that’s Jessica. I feel sorry for Jim Bakker.″
Miss Hahn, who is on a two-week media tour to promote an article in Playboy magazine in which she appears topless, angrily denied Riccobono’s story Tuesday. She has also denied accounts by two other men who claimed to have been her lovers.
In other developments surrounding the PTL scandal, Falwell said today that the battered ministry is ″within shouting disstance of victory″ as it prepares to file its reorganization plan in bankruptcy court by noon Thursday.
Falwell, without naming names, also told viewers of the ″PTL Club″ program that if the ″person or persons out to rule or ruin (PTL) would step aside,″ the ministry could be out of bankruptcy court by Jan. 1.
Falwell told the audience he can’t discuss details of the reorganization plan the ministry is counting on to ease its way out of $69 million in debts after filing under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. But he did say it is a ″good one and a fair one.″
Also, in St. Petersburg, Fla., Dortch announced that he is starting Life Challenges Inc., a Florida-based agency to serve people in crisis nationwide.
The outreach program will operate out of Clearwater under a board of at least 11 directors drawn from professional, clerical and business walks of life with the power to fire, set salaries and make financial disclosure, Dortch said.
The Bakkers’ 900-number phone service should get from 50,000 to 400,000 calls a day and the couple is expected to receive from 23 to 30 cents per call, according to estimates by a company spokesman, Charles DeNatale.
Weiner said today the company won’t tally the number of calls logged on Dial-the-Bakkers until next week.
In Wednesday’s two-minute message, Bakker says, ″I wanted to make it clear today - and we’ll talk more about it tomorrow - that we did not give the ministry to Jerry Falwell.″
On March 24, however, Bakker told reporters that he turned PTL over to Falwell because of a ″diabolical plot for a hostile takeover″ of the ministry.