Jim Bakker's Career Came Crashing Down After the Jessica Hahn Scandal
Content warning: This article mentions allegations of sexual abuse.
On Oct. 24, 1989, The PTL Club host and Heritage USA founder Jim Bakker was sentenced to 45 years in federal prison after being found guilty on 24 charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy, and others.
The televangelist to revolutionise the world of religious programming first came under scrutiny for financial malpractice in the 1970s, but it was a rape scandal that broke his career. Did Jim Bakker have affairs? What did he do to Jessica Hahn? Where is Jessica now?
Who did Jim Bakker have an affair with? Who is Jessica Hahn now?
The success of a childrens program, Come On Over, and a talk show, The 700 Club, led Jim Bakker and his first wife, Tammy Faye Messner, to take on projects more ambitious in scope.
The PTL Club, a late night talk show, helped them garner international fame. The building of the PTL headquarters began in the 1970s, and a theme park, Heritage USA, soon followed. The empire came down crashing in the 1980s, after Jessica Hahn opened up about an encounter in December 1980.
In the late 1980s, a former PTL church secretary named Jessica accused Jim of raping her in Room 538 of the Sheraton Sand Key Hotel in Clearwater Beach, Fla. As she said, another evangelist, John Wesley Fletcher, was also present.
As Jessica claimed, she was offered $265,000, including a $150,000 trust fund, in exchange for her silence — after Bakker came to an agreement with PTL officials. The revelations pointed toward larger-scale financial misconduct within the organization, while they also cast new doubt on Bakker's public image as a proud family man, loyal husband to Tammy Faye, and the father of two children.
"It's too emotionally traumatic for her to stand up and defend herself," Paul Roper, the founder of Operation Anti-Christ told the Washington Post in 1987. "She's up against an organization with unlimited money, a TV show with unlimited air time and loyal followers, who can tell their version in such a way as to make themselves look like the victim rather than the perpetrator. I'm just trying to set the record straight."
But the accusations triggered another wave of rumors as well. Bakker soon found himself facing allegations concerning his sex life outside of marriage, with many criticizing the televangelist of pursuing affairs with men.
Gary Smith, a former PTL manager, Jay Babcock, PTL's former director of creative television, and John Wesley Fletcher were some of the men whose names were featured in the accusations. Jay admitted during the 1988 grand jury investigation of PTL that he had a sexual encounter with Bakker, per Associated Press.
Where is Jessica Hahn now?
After the scandal, Jessica Hahn landed several Playboy covers, appearing on the front page of the November 1987 and September 1988 issue. She also featured in The Howard Stern Show, which sparked dating rumors.
She married TV writer, producer, and Married... with Children creator Ron Leavitt in 1991. They stayed together until his death in 2008.