COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A federal bankruptcy judge has thrown into jeopardy the $52 million deal by a San Diego evangelist to purchase the assets of the PTL ministry once headed by Jim Bakker.

"This deal is in big, big trouble," said Dennis Shedd, the court-appointed trustee overseeing the sale of the defunct religious empire near Fort Mill, 10 miles south of Charlotte, N.C.

"I don't think people are aware of how serious this is, but they should be," Shedd said after a bankruptcy court ruling Tuesday.

Judge Thurmond Bishop ruled against the preferential right that evangelist Morris Cerullo claimed to negotiate an extension of PTL's contract for satellite time from Home Box Office.

HBO officials said they can strike a better deal for their satellite time from someone else.

Without the network, Cerullo's plan could crumble.

"We're going to have to regroup and decide whether to appeal or whatever we have to do," Shedd said.

If Cerullo decides PTL isn't worth buying without the satellite time and backs out of the deal, he stands to lose a $7 million non-refundable deposit for the network and an additional $1 million deposit for the remaining assets of PTL's bankrupt Christian retreat and theme park.

The issue Tuesday involved a contract Bakker signed with HBO in 1985 to sublease satellite time that allowed PTL to beam its evangelical programs to cable TV systems serving millions of people.

Bakker's Inspirational Satellite Network and broadcast facilities reached about 800 cable systems and 7 million cable households in the United States at its peak.

The contract, calling for monthly payments of $242,000, expires in February.

Cerullo wanted HBO to approve the transfer of ownership for the few remaining months. He also wanted to negotiate an extension of the contract so he could continue to use HBO's leased satellite capacity.

Chicago lawyer James Cherney, who represented HBO in court Tuesday, argued that Cerullo does not have the right under his agreement to purchase PTL to negotiate with them concerning an extension of Bakker's original contract.

Bishop ruled in favor of HBO.

An HBO official told the Herald of Rock Hill, S.C., on Tuesday that it is unlikely the company would sign an agreement with Cerullo.

"We got a much better offer from Turner {Broadcasting System} and we'd feel a lot better with him on board than Cerullo," he said.

Tim Treadwell, attorney for Cerullo, refused to comment after the judge's decision.

Earlier this summer Cerullo received court permission to buy PTL's remaining assets, including the 2,200-acre Heritage USA. The property, closed since Hurricane Hugo struck in September 1989, includes two 500-room luxury hotels, a theme park, five restaurants, a shopping mall, a water park, a conference center, housing projects and more than 1,500 acres of undeveloped land.

Cerullo announced in August he planned a $15 million face lift for the retreat before reopening it in mid-1991.