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Federal report: PTL president abuses donations

FORT MILL, S.C. -- Federal records show that PTL President Jim Bakker used donations to his television ministry to purchase a mink coat, a sports car and a house boat, but the minister denied any wrongdoing.

The Federal Communications Commission's records, obtained last month by The Charlotte Observer, also said Bakker told viewers who contributed more than $350,000 in 1978 and 1979 that their money was going toward South Korean and Brazilian programs that were either already under way or soon to be started.

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But the PTL, based in Fort Mill, S.C., failed to send the aid until more than a year after the donations came in, the commission's report said. The newspaper reported Sunday that PTL used the donations to pay for part of the multimillion-dollar Heritage USA complex.

The commission's records, which had been confidential until the newspaper obtained them last December, also show that Bakker and his wife, Tammy, used portions of PTL donations to buy personal items, including a mink coat -- financed by a $25,000 PTL check -- and a Corvette sports car.

When the commission's investigation ended in 1982, the commission forwarded its findings to the Justice Department, which cited insufficient evidence in declining to take action against Bakker or other PTL officials.

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Bakker said he and the ministry have been vindicated because officials took no action against PTL when the commission's investigation was finished.

'The PTL organization, its leadership and employees have been completely vindicated by the United States Justice Department of any wrongdoing whatsoever,' PTL officials said last week in a statement.

Bakker testified during the investigation that he did not act deceptively in his appeal for donations for the programs abroad. He said he believed everything he said on the air was true.

He blamed over-expansion and inexperienced management for the ministry's delay in beginning the programs in the two countries.

Documents also said Bakker bought a $25,000 house boat in 1978, weeks after he claimed he and Mrs. Bakker had given their life savings to PTL. He used a $6,000 PTL check for the downpayment, records show. Bakker also tapped into petty cash funds for personal use, according to logged testimony.

Evidence shows 'that, over a period of years, Mr. and Mrs. Bakker, or their agents repeatedly used viewer contributions for personal expenses without properly accounting for them,' the report said.

Raising money over the air by false or deceptive appeals violates federal law and can result in license revocation. The decision of whether to revoke a license is up to the commission, which regulates television stations such as the one PTL owned in Canton, Ohio, in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

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