Televangelist Jim Bakker wins PPP loans in legal fight over fraud allegations

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On April 28, the pastor received approval for between $650,000 and $1.7 million in Paycheck Protection Program funds.

Weeks earlier, the attorneys general of New York and Missouri, as well as the Federal Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission, filed lawsuits alleging Bakker engaged in deceptive practices in touting the purported health benefits of silver product on The Jim Bakker Show – including a suggestion that it could be used to treat or prevent covid-19 infection, which the FDA says is false. In June, the Arkansas attorney general’s office launched its own lawsuit.

Applicants seeking PPP loans were asked to certify that they were not engaging in any illegal activity under federal, state or local law. The question is whether Bakker’s involvement in the ongoing litigation and fraud allegations will rise to the level of a Small Business Administration review.

It’s likely, according to attorney Daniel Grooms, a former federal prosecutor who worked at the Justice Department for 15 years. “There is every reason to believe that an entity, led by a person with the profile he has, given his history, and given the ongoing fraud issues surrounding the product he was selling, that these ongoing investigations and the continued scrutiny…it would be realistic to think this would lead to further investigation into his PPP loans,” Grooms said.

An SBA spokesperson declined to comment on a specific loan recipient. However, he provided an explanation for how the loan program was administered, saying the agency made no eligibility determinations during the approval process. After the fact, the SBA will review organizations and companies to identify those that may have submitted inaccurate self-certifications. The agency may request a refund with the potential for civil or criminal penalties if a fraudulent claim was submitted.

Bakker’s attorneys say no laws were violated and provided this statement: “We strongly believe that Morningside’s offering of a legal product, sold by stores across the country, did not violate any law, a fact highlighted by the FDA taking no action against Morningside and issuing its letter terminating the warning letter process on July 14. The claims by the attorneys general of Missouri and Arkansas relate only to this product, and Morningside had suspended its offer of this product before the date of its PPP loan application.

Baker rose to prominence in the late 1980s and 1990s following his trial and conviction for financial fraud involving Heritage USA, his television studio, Christian theme park and water park with shops, hotels and condominiums in Fort Mill, SC. After serving five years in federal prison, he went from preaching the prosperity gospel to delivering an apocalyptic end-times message.

“We’ve been through a whole year,” Bakker tearfully told his TV faithful this month.

On Feb. 12, before any governor had ordered a coronavirus lockdown, Bakker touted the health benefits of Silver Solution on his show. Bakker was joined by guest Sherrill Sellman, who practices naturopathic medicine and is not a licensed physician.

“This flu now going around the globe, you say Silver Solution would work,” he said, holding a bottle throughout the TV segment.

Sellman explained that the silver product, previously promoted on the show and sold through its online store, had not been tested against covid-19, “but it has been tested against other strains of the coronavirus and has been able to eliminate it in 12 hours — totally eliminate it. It kills it. Deactivates it,” she said.

What followed was a succession of cease and desist orders, warning letters, multiple state complaints and a temporary restraining order to stop promoting or selling the product. .

Bakker’s co-lawyer is Jay Nixon, a former four-term Missouri attorney general and two-term Democratic governor. Nixon framed this as a fight against the First Amendment and religious freedom.

Nixon says the pastor and his family use silver products in gel, lozenge and liquid form. He said Bakker immediately complied with orders to stop offering Silver Solution on his show and website.

“What we’re trying to do is show that this is a targeting of a pastor for said work in his church, as opposed to some sort of massive consumer issue that they’ve been looking for ever since. long, which they haven’t,” Nixon said.

Bakker’s legal team filed a lawsuit against the Arkansas State Attorney’s Office to prevent the prosecution of his congregation’s personal information as part of its investigation.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge refuses to portray the lawsuit as a violation of religious freedom. She wrote in a statement to the AP, “I have a long history of protecting the First Amendment and religious freedoms for Arkansans and all Americans. What I will not tolerate are the illegal schemes used by Mr. Bakker that are directly related to harming Arkansas consumers financially or physically Using his celebrity status to peddle fraudulent COVID-19 cures – stealing more than $60,000 – Bakker has historically covered up his illegal action in the name of religion, but he continues to deceive the Arkansans for his own glory and wealth.

Bakker, his wife Lori and his daughter Maricela Bakker Woodall, who is president of Morningside Church Productions, appealed for donations during a broadcast April 20. They referred to financial difficulties and Bakker pointed to “enemies” who were the source of their problems. “The only way to stay is if you help me. It’s just sad to see what’s going on in America. We’re living in the last days, and if we go in the wrong direction, America is over. “, did he declare. “Don’t let me have to file for bankruptcy.”

A week later, Arvest Bank, as lender, provided three PPP loans to Bakker’s church management, production and pension entities.

Bakker declined to comment, but Woodall responded in an email via the attorneys: The PPP program, she said, “has been another blessing to our ministry, and to so many other ministries and small businesses “.

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