The U.S. Postal Inspection Service

Jim Bakker

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Postal Inspector R.M. Hazelwood led a team of inspectors who analyzed PTL finances and interviewed people who had purchased partnerships to prove fraud.

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

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.

RM Hazelwood:  My name is RM Hazelwood.  I was postal inspector in-charge in charge of the Jim Bakker investigation in Charlotte, North Carolina.  This fraud investigation of Jim Bakker involved a Ponzi scheme basically where he took money for one thing and then used the money to pay off other debts.  He created new programs every time he ran low on money.  The difference in this Ponzi scheme was that it was involving a televangelist and a religious organization which meant we had to tread lightly because we were not prosecuting religion or a religious organization.  We were looking at prosecuting an individual.

Jim Bakker was what I called a charismatic conman.  The difference in his con was that he used God to fleece his thousands of listeners.  What he basically did after he fleeced them was he lived the life of the rich and famous.  He bought Rolls Royce’s.  He bought diamonds.  He bought gold-plated fixtures in his house.  He even bought an air-conditioned doghouse for his dog.

When the trial started we had reporters from all over the world, hundreds and hundreds of reporters every day for the entire length of the trial from all over the country, from Europe, here.  It was a very international-followed case.  Judge Potter sentenced Bakker to 45 years in jail for the violations that he committed against over 120,000 individuals.