CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - After 70 years of being on air, WBTV has a lot to reminisce on.
Seasoned reporter Steve Crump has worked with the station for nearly 40 years. One of the stories he remembers most is the scandal that followed evangelist Jim Bakker and his wife Tammy Faye.
‘To many people in this community, Jim Baker was larger than life.’
Crump credits Bakker for putting Charlotte on the map. No longer a sleepy, little southern town, Charlotte quickly grew as a hub when the Bakker’s opened Heritage USA, in 1978, right next door in Fort Mil, SC. That attraction drew in millions to the Carolina’s.
‘He had, for lack of a better term, a religious theme park,’ Crump said.
Theme parks aside, Jim Bakker’s success partially stemmed from his magnetic ‘rock star persona.’ One that he frequently flaunted on his late-night talk show The PTL Club.
Trouble arose when Bakker and his PTL ministry came under investigation by the Federal Communications Commission for allegedly misusing funds raised on the air. The FCC report found that Bakker had raised $350,000 that he told viewers would go towards funding overseas missions but were actually used to pay for part of Heritage USA.
The PTL Club’s fundraising activities between 1984 and 1987 were reported by The Charlotte Observer, eventually leading to criminal charges against Bakker. The religious program featured many well-known ministers and Christian recording artists before finally ending in 1987.
But, according to Crump, what really got Jim Bakker in trouble were the timeshares.
At the time, Bakker and his PTL associates oversold ‘lifetime memberships’ to stay at his luxury hotel in Heritage USA. According to the prosecution at Bakker’s fraud trial, tens of thousands of memberships were sold but only one 500-room hotel was ever finished.
‘You end up in a situation where if you are going to be out there doing God’s good work, you better be accountable,’ Crump said.