Mark Hughes stole millions of dollars by acting the unoriginal role of ordinary poor man: turned millionaire superman. In this way, he deceived countless vulnerable persons into trusting him completely and into blindly-following an 'MLM Plan' to obtain unlimited: prosperity, health, happiness, etc. Yet the chances of receiving any overall net-profit from participating in so-called 'MLM Income Opportunities', have always been effectively zero. Ironically, Mark Hughes died 14 years ago from an overdose of alcohol and anti-depressant drugs, but the profitable racket this angelic-looking charlatan instigated, has survived.
Currently, Mark Hughes' 'Herbalife' chapter of the pernicious 'MLM Income Opportunity' fairy story is under federal investigation in the USA, as a suspected fraud. However, the peddling of this apparently 'commercial / economic / legalistic / mathematical' fairy story as obtainable reality, is neither original nor unique and, consequently, this type of 'Prosperity Gospel' mass-deception, cannot be fully-understood in isolation.
In the Bible, a story is told of Jesus feeding 5000 people with just a handful of loaves and fishes, and of basketfuls of leftovers being gathered after the feast. However, it is important to understand that, in the biblical tale, all Jesus asks for in return, is unquestioning belief in future redemption. Should some sanctimonious performer require of 5000 individuals the same unquestioning belief in ‘Jesus the Redeemer,’ but exploit their faith to extract $1000 per head entrance to ‘The Miracle Buffet’ for the rest of their lives, then he/she would gross $5 millions. Unless the sanctimonious performer really does possess the superhuman power to turn the finite into the infinite, then his/her activity is an advance fee fraud (a form of theft).
|Jim and Tammy-Faye Bakker, circa 1964|
James (‘Jim’) Orson Bakker (b. 1940) is the son of Michigan ‘Dutch Pentecostalists’. In 1962, Bakker (aged 23), became a pastor in the ‘Assemblies of God.’ His diminutive wife was, Tamara (‘Tammy’)-Faye LaValley (1942-2007), the daughter of (divorced) Minnesota ‘Pentecostalists.’ The couple met at ‘North Central Bible College.’ They went on to found a ‘joint-ministry’ in N. Carolina.
|Pat Robertson circa 1965|
From 1964 until 1973, the fresh-faced young Bakkers worked in Virginia at ‘CBN’ (‘Christian Broadcasting Network’) for Pat Robertson. They were founder members of ‘The 700 Club’ (a televangelist programme in the style of a variety show). They also hosted ‘Come On Over’ - a daily programme for children, in which a glove puppet, ‘Susie Moppett,’ was used to explain ‘the Word of the Lord.’
The Bakkers’ enormous success and their intimate friendship with Pat Robertson created a lot of jealousy at ‘CBN.’ They decided to go to California where they coined the catch-phrase, ‘PTL’ (‘Praise The Lord’), for ‘TBN’ (‘Trinity Broadcasting Network’) owned by Paul and Jan Crouch. Within a year, the Bakkers moved back East and created their own show, ‘The PTL Club.’ This soon generated a multi-million dollar income; it was screened by around 100 television stations. The Bakkers went on to found their own ‘PTL Television Network’ a.k.a. ‘The Inspirational Television Network’ in Charlotte, N. Carolina.
In Charlotte, the Bakkers became friendly with blame the victim 'MLM Income Opportunity' shills, Dexter and Birdie Yager, and Jim Bakker became an influencial 'Amway' recruiter / promoter.
At this time, Jim Bakker is said to have become heavily influenced by Dexter Yager. Indeed, there are some people who have claimed that Dexter Yager was behind the financial crimes Jim Bakker subsequently committed.
|Jimmy and Tammy-Faye Bakker, circa 1982.|
In 1982, Jim and Tammy-Faye Bakker used their popular cable programmes, ‘The PTL Club’ and ‘The Jim and Tammy Show’ (which were eventually beamed into 13.5 millions American homes via 200 television stations), to launch ‘Heritage USA,’ the ‘World’s Largest Christian Theme-Park/Retreat Center’ to be built on a 4 square-mile site at Fort Mill, S. Carolina. To finance this, the Bakkers asked their television audience to send a minimum of one voluntary contribution per year to become a ‘Partner in Ministry’ (i.e. a person with the right to access ‘Heritage USA’). Jim Bakker created a series of corporate structures, including ‘Heritage Village Church and Missionary Fellowship’ to run the project. As the head of a tax-free religious organization, Bakker had no legal obligation to supply any material benefit in return for unspecified, voluntary donations. An estimated 1 million people contributed over a period of 6 years. The number of ‘Partners in Ministry’ stabilized at approximately 600 thousands. In this way, Bakker lawfully acquired absolute control of sufficient capital assets to build his Utopian project.
Eventually, ‘Heritage USA’ employed almost 3000 people. After ‘Disney Land’ and ‘Disney World,’ it was the third most-visited theme-park in the USA - boasting a reconstruction of ‘Old Jerusalem,’ a ‘Crystal Palace’ 30 000 seat Conference Center, a 1500 seat television studio, a ‘Crystal Tower’ Resort Hotel, a ‘Heritage Island Inspirational Water Park’ with Bible teaching on an artificial beach, etc.
'Heritage USA' became a regular venue for 'Amway' meetings and rallies peddled by the Yager clan.
Bakker bought the childhood home of Dr. Billy Graham, and had it rebuilt as a shrine at ‘Heritage USA.’
In 1984, the Bakkers made another ‘offer.’ In return for one mandatory minimum ‘contribution’ of $1000, ‘Partners in Ministry’ could become ‘Lifetime Partners in Ministry’ (i.e. persons with the additional right to '4 days and 3 nights free accommodation annually in exclusive luxury hotels on the Heritage USA site for the rest of their lives’).
This Christian time-share scheme was open to the public and involved a sales contract. Although this stated (in small print) that ‘accommodation was subject to availability,’ the officers of ‘Heritage USA’ were bound by federal law to supply what they’d sold. However, ‘Heritage USA’ president, pastor Jim Bakker, and his vice-president, pastor Richard Dortch, set no limits on the number of contracts.
Between 1984 and 1987, approximately 153 000 people paid the $1000 (certain individuals are now known to have given as much as $7000), but only one 500 room hotel was ever completed. The odds against getting a room were, in fact, more than 300/1. Although the overwhelming majority of applicants were simply told that no rooms were available, not one single contributing participant filed a complaint - the truth was unthinkable. Bakker’s image stared directly out of the slick advertising material, smiling benignly with his wife, son and daughter around him. He styled himself as ‘America’s Favourite Televangelist… Spiritual Adviser to: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush.’
Tammy-Faye’s trademarks were her outrageous hairstyles, kitsch outfits and doll-like makeup. At the end of each ‘PTL’ show, she would sing a heart-rending hymn and pray that ‘God’ would ‘bless Heritage USA’ before fixing the camera and bursting into floods of mascara-stained tears. Behind this apparently absurd façade, between 1984 and 1986, the Bakkers awarded themselves over $5 millions in ‘salaries and bonuses.’ On one occasion, a private jet was chartered by the ‘PTL’ organization at a cost of $100 thousands, just to fly the couple’s wardrobes across the USA. They now advocated a ‘Gospel of Prosperity.’ This ostensibly ‘Christian’ doctrine was used as the false justification for buying a $200 thousands Rolls-Royce, 3 Cadillacs, various condominiums in California and a $600 thousands villa in Palm Springs. The gold plate in the bathrooms of the Bakkers’ 6 homes was alone, reputed to have cost $60 thousands whilst their pet dog slept in an air-conditioned kennel.
Tammy-Faye’s shopping addiction led to her being ridiculed as the ‘Imelda Marcos of televangelism.’
In 1987, Jim Bakker was dragged into a sordid sex scandal by Jessica Hahn (b. 1959), the supsiciously-glamorous 'Church secretary' of another ‘Pentecostalist’ pastor, Eugene Profeta.
|John Wesley Fletcher|
Hahn (who later bared-all in ‘Playboy Magazine’) claimed that, whilst attending a national conference of Christian ministers in Florida in 1980 (when she was 21), she’d been drugged and raped for 15 minutes by Bakker and another preacher, John Wesley Fletcher, and that Bakker and Fletcher had then taken it turns to sodomise one another in front of her. Hahn approached a journalist at the ‘Charlotte Observer’ and threatened to file a multi-million dollar civil lawsuit. Bakker denied rape, but admitted that, in 1980, he’d had a 15-20 minute (one to one) consensual sexual encounter with Hahn in a hotel room in Clearwater Florida. ‘PTL’ lawyers made a secret out-of-court settlement totalling $265 000 to keep Hahn from going to court. However, Bakker’s competitors (in the cut-throat televangelist business) acquired this intelligence. He was obliged to resign from his presidency and from his ministry.
Soon Jerry Falwell (1933-2007), ‘Baptist Minister,’ co-instigator and self-appointed leader of ‘The Moral Majority’ and the rising star of the ‘Religious Right,’ appeared to be taking over the ‘PTL’ Empire, but at Jim Bakker’s own request. However, at the last moment, Bakker changed his mind. A bitter struggle then ensued to seize Bakker’s television network which was, in effect, a licence to print money. Leading the pack was Jerry Falwell who now described Bakker as ‘a liar, embezzler, sexual deviant…the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity in 2000 years of Church history.’
Falwell subsequently took over the ‘PTL Network’ and ‘Heritage USA.’ He promptly sacked all Bakker’s existing staff. With his Utopian dream-world falling apart (Tammy-Faye was in the ‘Betty Ford Clinic’), Bakker faced more, traumatic public revelations. He had been sexually-abused from the age of 11 by a male adherent of his parents’ church. When Jerry Falwell failed to have the ‘PTL’ Empire placed in voluntary receivership, he passed confidential, internal documents to federal agents proving there had been serious financial irregularities during Bakker’s rule. A series of investigations led to ‘Heritage USA’ being compulsorily placed in receivership and its tax-free status was revoked. All assets were sold-off at a fraction of their cost. Pastors Bakker and Dortch faced federal indictment for fraud, tax-evasion and racketeering.
In 1989, Bakker was convicted of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud. He was fined $500 000 and sentenced to 45 years federal prison. In effect, Judge Robert Potter ruled that, although Bakker and Dortch had been fêted as philanthropic millionaires and exemplary Christian conservatives by an alarming number of unthinking observers in the US media, and the political and religious establishment, the pair had unlawfully obtained at least $158 millions by peddling ‘future accommodation’ in largely non-existent hotel rooms. In his defence, it was claimed that Bakker had reinvested most of these vast ill-gotten gains in ‘Heritage USA,’ and that he’d only received a $200 000 'salary' and kept $3.7 millions ‘bonus’ for himself. However, Bakker’s lawyer accepted that his client had deliberately attempted to conceal his illegal activities by maintaining two sets of accounts.
Before he was led (in chains between two US Marshals) to a waiting car, Bakker was found crying and whimpering on the floor in the foetal position. He later claimed to have been experiencing hallucinations in which the crowds outside the Charlotte Courthouse had ‘transformed into demons and wild beasts.’ As Bakker tried to hide from reality on the back seat of the Marshal’s car, a small group of his most-bedazzled followers tried to throw themselves in its path. For a while, it was feared that there might be a collective suicide. In 1991, Bakker’s appeal against conviction for fraud and conspiracy was denied by another federal court, but his original sentence and fine were deemed too severe, and waved. At a later hearing, he was re-sentenced to 18 years federal prison.
David Brear (copyright 2014)