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October 4, 1988, TV Evangelist Jim Bakker Indicted For Federal Crimes - Today In Crime History

On this day, October 4, in the year 1988, televangelist Jim Bakker is indicted on 24 federal charges of mail and wire fraud and of conspiring to defraud the public.

James Orsen "Jim" Bakker was a nationally known American televangelist and the host of “The PTL Club”, a popular evangelical Christian television program.  The program began as a local TV broadcast in a converted Charlotte, North Carolina furniture store.  In a talk-show format, the program featured many well-known ministers and Christian recording artists.  The show grew quickly until it was carried by close to a hundred stations, with average viewers numbering over twelve million.  Contributions requested from viewers were estimated to exceed $1 million a week.

PTL's fund raising activities between 1984–1987 underwent scrutiny by The Charlotte Observer newspaper, eventually leading to criminal charges against Jim Bakker.  From 1984 to 1987, Bakker and his PTL associates sold $1,000 "lifetime memberships", which entitled buyers to a three-night stay annually at a luxury hotel at Heritage USA.   According to the prosecution at Bakker's fraud trial, tens of thousands of memberships had been sold, but only one 500-room hotel was ever completed.   Bakker "sold" more "exclusive partnerships" than could be accommodated.   Bakker allegedly kept $3.4 million in bonuses for himself.   A $279,000 payoff also went for the silence of Jessica Hahn, a staff secretary, with whom Bakker had adulterous sexual relations.  Bakker, who apparently made all of the financial decisions for the PTL organization, allegedly kept two sets of books to conceal the accounting irregularities.

Following a 16-month Federal grand jury probe, on October 4, 1988, Bakker was indicted on eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy.   In 1989, after a five-week trial, the jury found him guilty on all 24 counts, and Judge Robert Potter sentenced him to 45 years in federal prison and a $500,000 fine.

In early 1991, a federal appeals court upheld Bakker's conviction on the fraud and conspiracy charges, but vacated Bakker's 45-year sentence, as well as the $500,000 fine, and ordered that a new sentencing hearing be held.  On November 16, 1992, another sentencing hearing was held and Bakker's sentence was reduced to eight years in prison.  In 1994, after serving almost five years of his sentence, Bakker was granted parole and was released from custody.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has reported that Bakker still owes the IRS about $6 million.