FORT MILL, S.C. -- Jim Bakker's former bodyguard said yesterday that disclosure of the PTL founder's sexual tryst with Jessica Hahn provided an easy means of escape for Bakker from his crumbling television ministry.

Don Hardister, who served as Bakker's personal bodyguard for 11 years, said the television evangelist had "boxed himself into a corner" by allowing associates who knew of his sexual activities to play at will with television ministry funds, sending the religious empire to the brink of financial ruin.

"Really, the jig was up," Hardister said. "I think he {Bakker} knew that he already had bitten off more than he could chew, and that he wouldn't be able to pull things out."

Hardister said Bakker's closest aides used their knowledge of his 1980 encounter with Hahn, which prompted Bakker's March resignation, and the accusations of Bakker's homosexual advances toward other aides to vault themselves into positions of power, from which they freely spent ministry funds.

"I think that some of these folks had gotten some things on him, namely the Jessica Hahn thing, so I think he had lost his ability to control these people and they worked themselves into the financial control of this ministry," Hardister said.

Bakker, who was defrocked by the Assemblies of God church for the Hahn affair and "alleged bisexual activity," has consistently denied taking part in any homosexual acts.

In recent months, PTL's new managers, under the leadership of Bakker's designated successor, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, have revealed that Bakker and his top aides drew six-figure bonuses and had unlimited access to ministry charge cards and checking accounts.

PTL, reeling from $72 million in debts, filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors on June 12. U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Rufus Reynolds gave the ministry until Oct. 1 to file a reorganization plan.

PTL attorney Walter Theus of Columbia, S.C., said a team of lawyers and accountants is working hard to meet the court's deadline.

"It's a tight time-frame," Theus said, "but we'll do everything we can."

After a series of hearings, the court will mail an approved plan to creditors on Nov. 10. Objections must be filed by Dec. 10, and a confirmation hearing on the final plan would be held Dec. 22.

Theus declined to say whether PTL life partners, who paid $1,000 for lifetime rights to stay free in the Grand Hotel three nights a year, would have a chance to vote on the final plan. But he recalled Falwell has publicly promised the partners they will be taken care of.