Fallen TV preacher Jim Bakker faces up to 120 years in prison on charges he bilked millions of dollars from followers of his PTL ministry in a case that sprouted like a Hydra from a 15-minute sexual encounter in 1980.
The 24-count indictment handed up by a federal grand jury accused Bakker of siphoning off money from his financially troubled ministry to pay for his extravagant lifestyle and to pay hush money to Jessica Hahn following their infamous tryst eight years ago.The indictment also charged Bakker and former PTL president Richard Dortch of scheming "to defraud and to obtain money by means of false and fraudulent pretenses" from people who invested $158 million in a PTL vacation resort.
Bakker could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman said he left his office as soon as he heard the news.
But Bakker told his new congregation Sunday during services at a roller skating rink that he believed his indictment was imminent and he felt powerless in fighting the legal system.
"What can I do?" he asked. "You've got the IRS against you, the FBI, the KGB - no, the CIA - all these government agencies."
Weeping on occasion, he said, "If I thought it would help Christianity, I would get a gun and blow my head off. Then I'd be gone and you'd have no one to blame your problems on."
At a news conference in Phoenix Monday, Hahn retorted that she had been hurt deeply by the revelations and had little sympathy for Bakker.
"If he wants to blow his head off, let him," Hahn snarled. "I don't give a damn about Jim Bakker."
The grand jury said that while Bakker and Dortch knew the ministry "was in poor financial condition," they took bonuses totaling more than $4 million between 1984 and 1987.
A separate, 11-count indictment, returned simultaneously in U.S. District Court in Charlotte, charged Bakker's former aide, David Taggart, and his brother James Taggart, with tax evasion stemming from their alleged diversion of more than $1.1 million in ministry money to pay personal bills.
Bakker and Dortch each were accused of a single conspiracy count, eight counts of mail fraud and 15 counts of wire fraud. If convicted on all charges, the two each face up to 120 years in prison and fines of up to $6 million. They will be arraigned in 10 days, prosecutors said.