The Internal Revenue Service revoked the tax-exempt status of the PTL television ministry Friday and said contributions to the financially troubled organization are no longer tax deductible.
PTL officials, who are trying to reorganize the ministry in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Columbia, have said the tax-exempt status is essential to PTL's survival because it depends on tax-deductible contributions to operate. PTL has a Christian theme park and a cable television network based in Fort Mill.David Clark, PTL's court-appointed trustee, was not immediately available for comment, PTL spokeswoman Linda Ivey said.
PTL already has applied for a new tax-exempt charter, and hopes to be without the status of a non-profit corporation only "for a brief time," Assistant U.S. Trustee Joseph Buzhardt, whose office is administering the reorganization, said Friday.
The IRS claims PTL owes more than $55 million in taxes from June 1983 to June 1987, the month PTL filed for protection from creditors because of $72 million in debts, not counting the IRS claim.
The announcement by the IRS office in Atlanta follows a federal appeals court ruling Wednesday dissolving a preliminary injunction that had prevented the IRS from revoking the tax-exempt status.
"We felt the organization has not operated within the guidelines . . . in its original charter," Les Witmer, a spokesman for the IRS regional office, said Friday.
The revocation is based on the IRS' examination of PTL's records in bankruptcy court, Witmer said.
An IRS report in December concluded that PTL founders Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and their aides profited excessively from donations to the ministry. In addition, the IRS held that much of PTL's Heritage USA theme park operations were commercial rather than ministerial.
PTL had "excessive unrelated business income or income which was not really in keeping with the tax-exempt purpose," Witmer said.
The Bakkers received $10.7 million in their last seven years with the ministry, $9.4 million of which was excessive and unreasonable, the IRS report said.
Bakker resigned March 19, 1987, when a story was about to break that he had had sex with former church secretary Jessica Hahn in 1980 and that the ministry had paid her $265,000 in hush money.
A call to the Bakkers' home in Palm Springs, Calif., was answered by a recording; a request for comment was not immediately returned.
Jim Toms, a Bakker attorney in Hendersonville, N.C., said he did not think the IRS decision would affect Bakker's attempt to return to the ministry, "largely because I don't think the constituency of PTL is affected by tax exemptions that much. Most are interested in the work of the charity apart from its tax deductibility."
Toms said Bakker would "literally be on the plane tonight if he was offered an opportunity to help restore the ministry." Clark has said he is not interested in having Bakker return.
An IRS statement said the agency "can no longer assure taxpayers of the deductibility of contributions to PTL." However, it said past contributions are fully deductible.
On Wednesday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., affirmed a lower court ruling that the bankruptcy court did not have the authority to issue a preliminary injunction preventing the IRS from revoking the ministry's tax-exempt status.
Clark said then the ministry was considering additional appeals.
If PTL does appeal, contributions by individuals would still be deductible up to $1,000 until the appeal is decided, the IRS said.
The IRS said it would re-evaluate the situation if PTL is re-established or forms a new, exclusively charitable organization.
The government appealed the PTL reorganization plan approved by the bankruptcy court in Columbia Dec. 29 and still opposes it.