The big question is whether Jim Bakker’s involvement in ongoing litigation and fraud allegations will reach the level of a Small Business Administration review.
When the US government made pandemic loans to thousands of religious institutions, Jim Bakker and Morningside USA, his ministry in Blue Eye, Missouri, were among the most prominent recipients.
On April 28, the pastor received approval for an amount between $ 650,000 and $ 1.7 million in paycheck protection program funds.
Weeks earlier, the Missouri attorney general filed a complaint, the New York attorney general sent a cease-and-desist warning, and the Federal Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission sent warning letters alleging that Bakker had engaged in deceptive practices in touting the purported health benefits of money produced on The Jim Bakker Show – including a suggestion that it could be used to treat or prevent COVID-19 infection, what the FDA says is wrong. In June, the Arkansas attorney general’s office launched its own trial.
Applicants seeking PPP loans were asked to certify that they were not engaged in any illegal activity under federal, state, or local laws. The question is whether Bakker’s involvement in pending litigation and fraud allegations will reach the level of a Small Business Administration review.
It’s likely, according to lawyer Daniel Grooms, a former federal prosecutor who worked at the Department of Justice for 15 years. “There is every reason to believe that an entity, headed by a person with the profile that it has, given its history and the ongoing fraud issues regarding the product it was selling, that these ongoing investigations and the attention continues… it would be realistic to think that this would lead to further investigation of its PPP loans, ”said Grooms.
An SBA spokesperson declined to comment on a specific loan recipient. However, he provided an explanation of how the loan program was administered, saying the agency made no eligibility determinations during the approval process. After the fact, the SBA will examine organizations and businesses to identify those that may have submitted inaccurate self-certifications. The agency may request reimbursement with the potential for civil or criminal penalties if a fraudulent claim has been submitted.
Bakker’s lawyers claim that no laws were broken and provided this statement: “We firmly believe that Morningside’s offering of a legal product, sold by stores across the country, did not violate any law. law ; a fact highlighted by the FDA which took no action against Morningside and released its letter closing the warning letter process on July 14. The allegations made by the Attorneys General for Missouri and Arkansas relate only to this product, and Morningside had suspended its offering of this product prior to its PPP loan application date.
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Bakker gained notoriety in the late 1980s and 1990s following his trial and financial fraud conviction involving Heritage USA, its television studio, theme park, and Christian-oriented 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 an end-time apocalyptic message.
“We’ve been through a whole year,” a tearful Bakker told his TV followers this month.
On February 12, before a governor 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 that’s now going around the world, you say Silver Solution would be effective,” he said, holding a bottle throughout the television segment.
Sellman explained that the silver product, previously promoted on the show and sold through his online store, had not been tested for COVID-19, “but it has been tested on other strains of the coronavirus and may have eliminate it in 12 hours – eliminate it completely. It kills him. Disables it, ”she said.
What followed was a succession of cease and desist orders, warning letters, multiple state complaints, and a request for a temporary restraining order to stop promoting or promoting. sell the product.
Bakker’s co-counsel is Jay Nixon, a former four-term Missouri attorney general and two-term Democratic governor. Nixon presented this as a First Amendment and a fight for religious freedom.
Nixon says the pastor and his family use silver products in the form of gel, lozenges and liquid. 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 the said work in his church as opposed to some sort of massive consumer problem that they’ve been looking for for a long time. , which they didn’t, “Nixon said.
Bakker’s legal team has filed a lawsuit against the Arkansas state attorney’s office to prevent the tracing of his congregation’s personal information as part of its investigation.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is opposed to the trial being called an infringement of religious freedom. She wrote in a statement to the PA: “I have a long history of protecting the First Amendment and religious freedoms for the Arkansans and all Americans. What I will not tolerate are the illegal schemes used by Mr. Bakker that are directly related to financially or physically harming consumers in Arkansas. Using his celebrity status to peddle fraudulent COVID-19 remedies – stealing over $ 60,000 – Bakker has historically covered up his illegal action in the name of religion, but he continues to cheat the Arkansans for his own glory and his own wealth. “
Bakker, his wife Lori and their daughter Maricela Bakker Woodall, who is president of Morningside Church Productions, appealed for donations on a show that aired on April 20. “The only way we can stay is if you help me. It’s just sad to see what’s going on in America. We are living in the last days, and if we go in the wrong direction America is through, ”he said. “Don’t let me go bankrupt. “
A week later, Arvest Bank, as a lender, granted three PPP loans to the management, production and pension entities of the Bakker church.
Bakker declined to comment, but Woodall responded in an email via the lawyers: The PPP program, she said, “has been another blessing for our ministry, and for so many other ministries and small businesses. “.
The Associated Press’s religious coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.