Bakker Trial Continues With Testimony of Opulence
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ Jurors watched videos Tuesday showing the opulent lifestyle of PTL founder Jim Bakker, including a 4,000-square-foot suite in a hotel at the PTL ministry’s Heritage USA theme park and retreat.
The video tour was conducted by James Taggart, Bakker’s former interior decorator, who was sentenced to 17 years in prison and fined $500,000 last week for tax evasion while at PTL. Taggart said the suite could be divided into three smaller suites for the Bakkers and their two children.
The presidential suite in the Heritage Grand Hotel at Heritage USA, outside Charlotte at Fort Mill, S.C., was used occasionally by the Bakkers, who also had a five-level parsonage at nearby Lake Wylie.
Reporters could not see the video screen as Taggart described gold-plated swan bathroom fixtures, antique beds and mirrored walls in the bedroom. He said the suite included a 10-by-60-foot closet for Bakker’s wife, Tammy Faye.
Bakker is charged with 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy and faces 120 years and prison and more than $5 million in fines. Prosecutors say he used nearly $4 million in ministry funds to finance a lavish lifestyle.
Taggart and his brother David were convicted of evading $525,000 in income taxes on money they received from PTL. Prosecutors have indicated they might support a reduction in the Taggarts’ sentences in exchange for testimony against Bakker.
Under cross-examination by defense lawyer Harold Bender, Taggart testified that other celebrities also used the presidential suite, but they had to be cleared through Bakker’s office.
A former PTL attorney, John Yorke, said he sent a memo to his law firm boss, former Charlotte mayor Eddie Knox, citing concerns about 1983 wages earned by the Bakkers.
″Together, Jim and Tammy have a monthly income of more than $30,000,″ he said. ″Jim has already received one bonus this year totaling $390,000. He could possibly earn more than $1 million this year.″
Yorke testified that he warned Bakker about legal problems he saw at PTL, including risking PTL’s tax-exempt status because of high salaries, nepotism and a lack of legal advice at PTL board meetings.
Yorke also described Bakker’s reaction to bad news. ″Jim didn’t like to hear bad news. On several occasions when Eddie (Knox) got stern with him, he turned around and wouldn’t look at him.″
Miller asked how long Bakker would refuse to look at Knox, Yorke said, ″Until he left.″ Yorke’s firm was replaced as PTL attorneys in 1986.
Guy Forcucci, a certified public accountant who worked for PTL in the early 1980s and prepared Bakker’s individual income tax returns, testified he had warned Bakker as early as 1982 about his high salary.
Bakker’s 1982 tax return showed he earned $290,000, Forcucci testified. He said he warned Bakker the following year, after the PTL leader’s salary rose to $461,000.
PTL’s tax-exempt status ultimately was revoked following Bakker’s resignation in March 1987.
In other testimony, Thomas Trask, treasurer of the Assemblies of God of Springfield, Mo., testified that Bakker had nearly $794,000 in the denomination’s retirement account on May 6, 1987. Bakker is barred from making further contributions because he has been defrocked by the church.
Michael Dixon, a Franklin, Tenn., music agent for the Bakkers’ daughter, Tammy Sue, testified he was paid more than $96,000 by PTL to devise a marketing scheme for Tammy Sue’s recordings. Testimony showed Bakker purchased more than $600,000 worth of music equipment for his home.
U.S. District Judge Robert Potter lectured Bakker for not reporting to his probation officer Monday for a weekly report on medication he is taking. Bakker’s lawyer, Harold Bender, went to the probation office instead and apologized in court.
Prosecutors continued their practice of this week of interspersing testimony about the Bakker’s lifestyle with testimony from people who sent them money. Prosecutors contend that Bakker took money sent by his followers - called partners if they gave $1,000 - and didn’t use it to construct hotel rooms he promised in broadcasts and in mailings. Partners were told they could stay free in a PTL hotel once a year.
Sarah Combs of Spanishburg, W.Va., said she and her husband, a disabled coal miner, lived on $400 a month. But they decided to use $1,000 out of $19,000 her husband received for medical compensation for black lung disease, caused by breathing coal dust, for a partnership in the Heritage Grand Hotel.
But she was never able to stay there, despite repeated attempts, she said.
″Every time I called, I would talk to someone else and they would give me a different reason why there wasn’t any room,″ she said.
In testimony Monday, Taggart said Bakker joked about his finances for expensive trips, telling those with him to ″thank the PTL partners.″