Jim Bakker Refuses to Answer Questions in PTL Aides’ Trial
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ PTL founder Jim Bakker refused to answer questions Wednesday in the federal tax evasion trial of two former aides on grounds he might incriminate himself.
Bakker appeared only because his attorney failed to quash a subpoena compelling him to testify for the defense. He entered U.S. District Court before the jury returned from an afternoon break in the trial of James and David Taggart.
David Taggart, 32, was Bakker’s top personal aide, and James Taggart, 35, was the television ministry’s interior decorator. The Taggarts are accused of evading $487,000 in federal income taxes during their years at PTL. Prosecutors say the two men diverted $1.1 million in ministry funds to their own use.
Both were fired when Jerry Falwell took over at the television ministry following Bakker’s resignation in March 1987 following revelations of the Jessica Hahn sex-and-money scandal.
Bakker and Richard Dortch, his former top deputy at the now-bankrupt television ministry, are to go on trial here Aug. 28 on 24 counts of wire and mail fraud and conspiracy.
As defense attorney Ben Cotten attempted to ask Bakker a series of questions Wednesday, the PTL ministry’s founder took the Fifth Amendment.
″What was the PTL’s policy on cash advance?″ Cotten asked.
″On the advice of my attorney, I decline to answer on the grounds my answer may tend to incriminate me,″ Bakker responded.
Questions about PTL policy on blank checks and about who hired the Taggarts in 1983 brought the same reply.
Asked if he would give the same answer to other questions, Bakker said, ″Yes.″
Prosecutor David Brown then asked Bakker whether he knew the defendants, and asked him about David Taggart’s employment contract and a bonus payment to him. Bakker again refused to answer.
Judge Robert Potter then released Bakker, saying, ″This court will not force him to testify.″
Asked later if he wanted to comment on his reasons for not testifying, Bakker replied, ″No, the judge has asked that there be no comment.″
Bakker, accompanied by attorneys Harold Bender and George T. Davis, left in their car. Davis said in a telephone interview that Bakker’s refusing to testify Wednesday did not mean Bakker would not testify at his own trial.
Testifying earlier in the day, James Taggart described himself as an artist with no knowledge of several questionable financial transactions mentioned during the trial.
″A lot of these mistakes I’m learning in this courtroom,″ he said. ″I’m under a microscope and I’m learning.″
Taggart showed jurors large photos of some of his work. He appeared relaxed and confident as he recalled the first time Bakker noticed his design flair, at a party he and his brother held at their house in 1981.
″The interior was very theatrical and dramatic,″ Taggart said.
Taggart said he almost immediately became involved in the interior design of PTL’s Heritage USA Christian retreat.
He said one of his first big assignments was decorating Bakker’s vacation home in the Highland Beach, Fla., and that Bakker had only one request.
″As soon I walk into it, I want to know James Taggart did it,″ he recalled Bakker telling him. ″I want the theatrics and flair of James Taggart.″
By 1984, Taggart was chief interior designer.
He testified that Bakker placed great demands on him and put no limits on how much money he could spend.
″He trusted me,″ Taggart said. ″He confided in me.″