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Falwell Disputes Builder’s Testimony Over Hush Money

September 26, 1989 GMT

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ Jurors at Jim Bakker’s fraud trial watched videotapes of Bakker’s TV show today, including one in which ″Love Boat″ captain Gavin MacLeod said God had saved his marriage.

The jurors saw a 1985 show on which MacLeod and his wife, Patty, discussed how their Christian faith allowed them to remarry three years after they divorced. Bakker and his wife, Tammy, also discussed their marital problems.

MacLeod began crying when he was introduced by Bakker, saying, ″I don’t think I’ve stopped crying since I came to the Lord.″

Bakker talked about how many Hollywood stars have appeared on PTL shows.

″What is God doing?″ he asked. ″He won’t leave you alone. God wants to take Hollywood.″

Bakker said he and Tammy had experienced their own marital problems. ″Tammy said ‘Jim, I don’t love you anymore.’ And I said, ’I don’t love you anymore, either,‴ he said, adding that they were able to save their marriage because of their strong faith.

″What these people are saying is real,″ Bakker said. ″Our marriage died and their marriage died. Sure, we still have problems. But to get to heaven, you have to have had problems.″

Bakker is accused of defrauding followers by using more than $3.7 million in ministry money to live in style. He faces up to 120 years in prison and more than $5 million in fines if convicted on all 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy.

On Monday, a former builder for Bakker testified that the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who took over PTL after Bakker resigned in a sex and money scandal, offered Bakker a $300,000 annual salary for life and other perks to keep quiet.

Defense attorney George T. Davis never asked Messner what Bakker was supposed to keep quiet about. It was not clear whether Bakker turned down the alleged offer. Roe Messner, tstifying for the defense, was not questioned further about the matter.

But a Falwell spokesman said Bakker had asked for the money and perks.

Messner also said a PTL official claimed Bakker knew nothing about $265,000 in hush money paid to Jessica Hahn, the church secretary with whom Bakker had a sexual encounter in 1980.

Messner testified that Falwell sent him to Palm Springs, Calif., in May 1987 to offer Bakker a deal: the $300,000 salary, a maid, a security guard, health insurance and telephone expenses ″if he kept his mouth shut.″

Bakker’s wife, Tammy, jotted down the offer on a piece of her pink stationery, and Bakker wrote at the bottom: ‴I’m not making any demands on PTL. I’m not asking for anything,‴ according to Messner.

Falwell, founder of the now-defunct Moral Majority, denied Messner’s account.

The offer actually was a demand from Bakker, said Falwell’s spokesman, Mark DeMoss, in a telephone interview.

DeMoss said Falwell did dispatch Messner to Palm Springs to talk to Bakker, but he carried no offer. DeMoss said Messner returned with a handwritten list of demands on the Mrs. Bakker’s stationery.

DeMoss said Bakker’s demands included hospital insurance, a $300,000 annual salary for life, a $100,000 annual salary for life for his wife, royalties on inspirational books and recordings made by the Bakkers, secretary and maid service for a year, use of a South Carolina lakefront house and furniture and attorneys’ fees.

Messner, who testified that he handled the $265,000 payment to Ms. Hahn, also said that at a Feb. 21, 1985, lunch, PTL Executive Vice President Richard Dortch told him: ‴I’m going to ask you to do a big favor. I’m asking you because I know you’ll keep it confidential.‴

Dortch told Messner that if he didn’t pay a woman from New York $265,000, then she would go to The Charlotte Observer with allegations that Bakker raped her. Five days later, Messner said, he wired the $265,000 to an account number in California that was given to him by Dortch.

Messner said he asked Dortch if Bakker knew about the payment, and Dortch replied: ‴No, I’m acting on my own.‴

Messner said he agreed to make the payment in part because the Assemblies of God was named as the potential party in a lawsuit threatened by Ms. Hahn.

″I didn’t think the church ought to be dragged into this incident,″ Messner said.