By 1986, PTL employed 2,500 people around the world and was taking in $129 million in annual revenue, according to John Wigger‘s The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire. Their Christian-themed resort, Heritage USA, was the third-most-visited attraction in the U.S. that year, behind only Disneyland and Disney World, and the PTL Network reached 14 million homes. The Bakkers reportedly owned multiple residences, two Rolls Royces, a 55-foot houseboat and a private jet.
On March 19, 1987, Jim resigned from PTL after church secretary Jessica Hahn alleged that the pastor had sexually assaulted her in December 1980. Jim insisted the encounter was consensual and he was never charged with a crime, but he admitted to paying Hahn $265,000 from the church’s funds to stay quiet. An investigation into the ministry’s finances found that Jim had also been selling so-called “lifetime memberships” to their Heritage Grand hotel—to more people than there were rooms—for $1,000 a pop. Moreover, PTL couldn’t account for $92 million in revenue.
Already at work launching a new TV-driven ministry in Orlando, Fla., Tammy Faye told a reporter ahead of Jim’s trial on fraud charges, “If our case is tried on truth, we will win. I’m asking God that everyone will simply tell the truth… I’m praying for all the men who are lying.”
“Not only is Jim on trial, people,” she said on her show, “but the church we know is on trial. Everything that has to do with Christian television is on trial when Jim walks into that courtroom.”
In 1989, Jim, who pleaded not guilty, was convicted of 24 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud and sentenced to 45 years in prison. He served five, his sentence reduced on appeal, and upon his release penned the autobiography I Was Wrong, in which he revealed that, when he was 11, he was molested by a male member of his family’s church, leaving him very confused about his sexuality. In 1998 he married Lori Beth Graham, they have five children together, and he presides over Morningside ministry in Blue Eye, Mo.