Have you ever wondered how one person can bring down an entire empire? You're about to find out.
Jim and Tammy Faye
Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were the most well-known televangelists in the world. Their multi-million dollar empire, PTL (Praise The Lord), was a mix of a Christian broadcasting network, a theme park, water park, and residential complex. Jim and Tammy Faye had their own variety show, which included puppets, that became the longest-running televangelism program ever.
From 1984-1987, PTL fell under scrutiny from The Charlotte Observer, a local newspaper, for their fraudulent fundraising. The Bakkers were selling $1000 "lifetime memberships" for an annual 3-night stay at a luxury hotel which wasn't built yet. Tens of thousands of people bought memberships, but only one 500-room hotel was built. Jim Bakker raised more than enough money to build the hotel, but instead kept $3.4 million in bonuses for himself.
It wasn't until another scandal emerged that details became public about this fraud.
During The Charlotte Observer's investigation into the Bakker's finances, they discovered something troubling: Jim Bakker made a one-time payment of $279,000 in 1980 to then-21-year-old Jessica Hahn, a church secretary. Bakker was in charge of all the financial decisions for PTL, and allegedly kept two sets of books for the empire to conceal the irregularities. This pay-off, however, was not hidden well enough.
It came to light that Hahn and Jim Bakker had a sexual encounter seven years prior, but the details surrounding the story were fuzzy.
“I fielded this call from someone who turned out to be Jessica Hahn telling us that something had happened between her and Jim Bakker,” investigative reporter Charles Shepard told Scandal Made Me Famous.
Bakker claims he met Hahn at a hotel room and the two had consensual sex.
Hahn claims Bakker drugged and raped her.
Shepard began investigating Hahn's rape claims, but ran into a lot trouble with PTL management. He remembers walking into an office with a PTL executive.
“I remember very vividly being in his office, and he pulling a handgun out of his pocket and dropping it on the desk, kind of in front of me, as if to let me know who is in charge and I better be well-behaved,” Shepard recalls.
The threats didn't stop Shepard, however, and his discovery of the big payout to Hahn got the attention of authorities.
In 1988, Jim Bakker was indicted on 8 counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. In 199, Bakker's conviction was upheld by the court of appeals, but his sentence and fine were dropped. He was given a new sentencing hearing and was only given 8 years in prison. He was granted parole after 5 years and was released in July 1994.
The accusations of rape were never brought to court, though Bakker completely denies Hahn's account of what happens. The televangelist believes he was completely set up.
Where Are They Now
Tammy Faye Bakker unfortunately passed away in 2007 due to colon cancer. She was never implicated in any of her husband's crimes, but many believe she knew what was happening.
Jessica Hahn became a famous Playboy Playmate, while also being a recurring guest on The Howard Stern Show.
As for Jim Bakker, he currently sells buckets of "food sand" that can be re-hydrated after the rapture.
The Hahn-Bakker controversy the biggest thing to rock the Christian community at the time, with Jim and Tammy Faye becoming complete laughing stocks of the world. Since the sex scandal, their company dropped drastically and no one could take them seriously.
Do you remember when this happened? Let us know.