Inside the Jessica Hahn Scandal: How a 21-Year-Old Church Secretary Brought Down a Televangelist Empire
As scandals go, this one was huge.
Televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker had built a multimillion dollar empire in South Carolina. Known as PTL, it was a conglomerate of Christian-based businesses. In addition to a Christian broadcasting network, it included a theme park, water park and residential complex. It raked in millions of dollars per year.
Jim was known for his all-inclusive messages. Tammy Faye became famous for her garish makeup — false eyelashes, red rouge and heavy lipstick.
But everything came crashing down in 1987, when the Charlotte Observer began investigating the organization’s finances. Among the newspaper’s findings: that Jim Bakker had paid $279,000 to Jessica Hahn, a church secretary.
Soon, the story became more tawdry. Hahn alleged that she had been raped by Bakker in 1980, when she was 21. He acknowledged that he had once had sex with her, but insisted that the sex was consensual.
On Saturday night’s episode of Scandal Made Me Famous, the show will examine the PTL scandal, and will speak with the reporter who led the investigation against the Bakkers. He says that he was first alerted to the PTL Club’s financial sins by Hahn herself.
“I fielded this call from someone who turned out to be Jessica Hahn telling us that something had happened between her and Jim Bakker,” investigative reporter Charles Shepard tells the show.
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Shepard tells the show that he was threatened by PTL management several times. On one occasion, he says he went to the corporate offices and had a startling encounter with a PTL executive. “I remember very vividly being in his office, and he pulling a handgun out of his pocket and dropping it on the desk, kind of in front of me, as if to let me know who is in charge and I better be well-behaved,” Shepard recalls.
The financial mismanagement uncovered by Shepard was enough to get authorities to notice. Bakker was found guilty of 24 counts of fraud and sentenced to 45 years in prison. He was paroled after about five years behind bars.
Scandal Made Me Famous combines reenactments, exclusive interviews and never-before-seen photos and video to tell the story of infamous crimes. The show is hosted by PEOPLE Senior Writer Steve Helling.
The Jessica Hahn episode premieres this Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on the Reelz Channel.