FORT MILL, S.C. — The fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and their PTL Club ministry has captivated the Charlotte region for decades.
The Bakkers were the stars of "The PTL Club," which aired on television in the 1970s and '80s. They took it from a local ministry on Park Road in Charlotte to televangelism's national stage beamed around the world from their Heritage USA ministry in Fort Mill.
The shows and their lifestyles were lavishly built with money from those who donated millions to help the PTL ministry grow.
In 1987, a scandal involving the Bakkers and the ministry came to light. The ministry had paid former church secretary Jessica Hahn who'd had a sexual encounter with Jim Bakker.
Jim Bakker abruptly resigned from The PTL and Jerry Falwell stepped in.
Following that, a federal grand jury indicted Jim Bakker and some of his top aides on mail and wire fraud charges.
Jim Bakker was convicted and sent to prison in 1989 after a highly publicized trial.
He was released five years later, wrote a book and apologized and told broadcast journalist Barbara Walters he was done with televangelism.
Jim Bakker is currently hosting a new show in Branson, Missouri, where he still preaches and seeks donations.
“Jim got out of prison and went to work,” former bodyguard Don Hardister said. “I mean, what's wrong with that? That's all he knows to do. That's his calling in life. So, it's no shock to me that he's doing it, and I think he's doing it quite well, once again.”
Parts of the place he left behind in Fort Mill have been rebuilt, while others remain crumbling monuments to a television ministry that had created a Christian Camelot and ultimately collapsed in a pile of broken promises.
Former PTL band member Russell DeShields played music with several celebrities for the ministry.
“I counted myself blessed just to be among some of these folks,” DeShields said.
He was crushed when the scandal broke.
“It was tough,” he said. “I mean, it was because it was a family.”
Thirty years later, DeShields said it’s easy to see the problems that would bring PTL and Jim Bakker down.
The biggest problem may have been that no one would tell Jim Bakker, “No.”
“Don't get me wrong,” he said. “There were some great people around him, wonderful people. But sometimes it's hard to say, ‘We, probably shouldn't do that.’ It was tough.”
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