CHARLOTTE, N.C., DEC. 14 -- PTL founder Jim Bakker should pay nearly $130 million to his former contributors, a jury decided today, but attorneys said it was unlikely the jailed televangelist's followers will collect.
"The only thing my client owns is a 45-year lease on a 5-by-7 room in a Minnesota prison," said Gene Carr, one of Bakker's attorneys. Bakker received a 45-year sentence for fraud and conspiracy after he was convicted in a criminal trial last year.
Today's civil judgment came on the fifth day of jury deliberations in a class-action lawsuit that went to trial Oct. 24.
The other defendants -- accounting firm Deloitte Haskins & Sells; David Taggart, Bakker's former personal aide; and Aimee Cortese, a minister from New York who served on PTL's board of directors -- were not liable for any damages, the jury ruled.
Tom Anderson, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, conceded after the verdict that it was unlikely his clients will collect any of the award from Bakker. Bakker earns 12 cents an hour working at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn. "In order to collect any money it must have come from Deloitte Haskins & Sells," he said.
The accounting firm, renamed Deloitte & Touche after a merger, is the nation's fourth largest.
The lawsuit claim totaled $757 million when it was filed in 1987 by about 145,000 contributors that PTL called "lifetime partners." They alleged Bakker conspired with other PTL officials and accountants to set up secret bank accounts to give Bakker, his wife, Tammy Faye, and other ministry leaders huge bonuses.
Anderson, who spent more than $2 million of his own money on the case, said he was "very, very disappointed" with the verdict. "I feel that Deloitte Haskins & Sells got away with something and I don't like it," Anderson said. "The money is not the worst thing; I just don't think justice was done."
He said he will appeal.
Jury foreman Denise Elsner said the panel, which deliberated for nearly 28 hours, knew that any damages against Bakker would be virtually uncollectible. A bankruptcy trustee closed Bakker's Heritage USA theme park last year, and Bakker was fined $500,000 when he was imprisoned.
Elsner said jurors agreed that Bakker defrauded his flock but "we didn't feel he was a racketeer," a finding that automatically would have tripled damages.
Guy Forcucci, a tax partner at Deloitte Haskins & Sells, began to cry when the jury's decision was announced and gave an associate a victory punch.
"I just have gratitude the jury focused on the issues and not the innuendo," he said. "This has been hell for me the past three years. I just hope this is the last chapter in the PTL saga."
The jury said Bakker should pay $129,618,000 in actual damages and $129,618 in punitive damages. The jury said Bakker would be required to pay punitive damages because he committed common law fraud. The jury did not elaborate on how it arrived at the figures.
Another large accounting firm, Philadelphia-based Laventhol & Horwath, was named in the lawsuit, but the proceeding against the firm was halted in mid-trial when it filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy law.