Jim Bakker was the charismatic presenter of the Praise the Lord Club (PTL) television show. Thousands tuned in to hear his promises of hope and healing. From 1984 to 1987, Bakker used his show and the mail to promote the sale of partnerships in a PTL-owned entertainment complex called the Heritage USA resort. He claimed the sale would be limited to 25,000 partnerships, but bilked believers out of $178 million by vastly overselling memberships. Bakker and his business partners kept the money.
The Postal Inspection Service worked with the IRS and the FBI to investigate the scheme, which relied on mailed advertisements and postmarks on payments for the fraudulent ventures. Bakker was convicted of tax, wire, and mail fraud.
Postal Inspector R.M. Hazelwood reflects on the complicated situation of Jim Bakker’s fraud as the inspection service had to tread carefully to investigate the man, not his religious organization.