Originally published by Miami New Times Jan 01, 1998
©2005 New Times, Inc. All rights reserved.
The Resurrection of Robert Tilton
Dogged by grabby ex-wives and financial scandals, a Texas prophet-for-profit brings his TV act to Miami Beach
BY SEAN ROWE
Sitting in Ross Perot's favorite booth at a fancy Dallas restaurant,
Leigh Valentine eats half her low-fat redfish and then explains her
husband's "disguise kit." The kit contained several fake mustaches and
a $1200 custom-made wig. Robert Tilton, the Texas televangelist,
carried it everywhere, and during their first year of marriage he wore
disguises "50 percent of the time," Valentine says.
It's a tale she's told before, under oath in divorce court -- the
disguise kit, and the nights aboard a yacht in Fort Lauderdale or in
various mansions where Tilton would throw her down stairs, slam her
against walls, or hurl cordless telephones at her head; how Tilton
would drink himself into blind rages and declare he was the Pope or
wake up in the night screaming that "rats were eating his brain."
Valentine, a former Miss Tallahassee, further explains why Tilton felt
compelled to use disguises in 1995 but probably doesn't any more; and
why, despite having spent $6000 on private detectives in Texas and
Florida, she has no idea where her husband is right now.
"We would go to restaurants here in Dallas and people would give us the
finger," she says. "People would scream at us on the street. It was
incredible. Bob hated Dallas, and the more he hated Dallas the more he
loved Florida. He said Fort Lauderdale was like his cloak of
invisibility. Nobody would ever find him there. No one recognized him.
He could wear shorts and Hawaiian shirts all day and do whatever he
Apropos of nothing, Valentine announces she's "doing a book-and-movie
deal" (working title: The Dark Side of the Cross). Later over coffee
she says she hopes any story resulting from tonight's interview will
ignore her drunk-driving arrest last month, which occurred after she
broadsided another motorist at a Dallas intersection. It would be nice
if she were described as 39 years of age instead of 41, she suggests.
"And call me Leigh Valentine, not Leigh Valentine Tilton," she adds. "I
don't know how I got myself into this mess. I mean, I'm the daughter of
a surgeon! I wish I'd never heard the name Tilton."
Parting words: "Find Bob. I want photos of him. Him and whatever
girlfriend he's with. He keeps telling the judge he's broke. He keeps
pretending he's changed. Bob Tilton will never change, and he'll
definitely never be broke."
If you saw him on TV during the late Eighties or early Nineties, you
will not have forgotten Robert Tilton. Not the Howdy Doody dimples, nor
the frosted, frizzy hair. Not the bizarre facial contortions, nor the
Babylonian babbling that passed for speaking in tongues. Not the
antics: Tilton climbing aboard his desk to wallow in a pile of viewers'
prayer requests; Tilton explaining why he had gone for plastic surgery
(ink from those same prayer requests had seeped into his bloodstream
and created bags under his eyes); Tilton telling his TV audience that
those who messed with him were "messin' with the apple of God's eye."
Robert Tilton ruled the broadcast vacuum left by fallen televangelists
Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. And if Swaggart and Bakker seemed like
caricatures, Tilton was a veritable cartoon character, a self-parody of
television evangelism itself.
While skeptics dismissed him as a low-rent Southern cultural
phenomenon, Tilton was hee-hawing all the way to the bank. At his peak
he purchased 5000 hours of airtime per month and appeared in all 235
U.S. television markets. His daily Success-N-Life show reached
virtually every TV set in North America. Tilton's mass-market ministry
pulled in $80 million per year, and his Dallas church drew as many as
5000 worshipers to Sunday service. He trotted the globe, wore $2000
tailored Italian suits, and drove, depending on his mood, a
Mercedes-Benz or a Jaguar. He occupied multimillion-dollar residences
near San Diego and Dallas and a waterfront vacation home in Fort
Lauderdale. Of course, the facts of his gaudy lifestyle and the
astonishing size of his business enterprise remained largely hidden
until after his eclipse began.
Tilton learned from the scandals that brought down Swaggart and Bakker.
While claiming to support various orphanages and overseas missions, he
was careful not to link viewers' contributions to any particular
project. (Bakker went to prison because he raised money for a Christian
theme park in South Carolina and then spent the money on other things.)
And while Tilton called himself the prophet of a generation, he did not
harp on moral issues. He thereby avoided setting himself up for charges
of hypocrisy. (Swaggart's demise began when he was videotaped with a
prostitute. He had previously preached to millions on the sins of lust
One issue Tilton did dwell on was worldly wealth. Day after day he
pitched a narrow, well-oiled version of the Pentecostal "prosperity
gospel." In exchange for $1000 "vows" from followers, Tilton promised
to lobby God for miraculous improvements in their health and finances.
"If Jesus Christ were alive today and walking around, he wouldn't want
his people driving Volkswagens and living in apartments," he explained.
Then came November 21, 1991. On that evening, ABC's PrimeTime Live
aired the findings of a six-month investigation into the ministries of
Tilton and two other TV preachers, W.V. Grant and Larry Lea.
The segment on Tilton was by far the most damning. At its heart was the
accusation that Tilton never saw the vast majority of prayer requests
and personal correspondence sent to him by faithful viewers. On the air
Tilton promised to pray over each individual miracle-plea. But ABC said
it found thousands of those requests dumped in garbage bins in Tulsa,
Oklahoma. Checks, money orders, and in some cases cash, food stamps,
and even wedding rings sent by followers had been removed for deposit
at a nearby bank.
Tilton and his lawyer claimed the Dumpster documents had been stolen by enemies of the church and then planted in the trash.
Within weeks the first of a dozen lawsuits had been filed by outraged
followers. One of the plaintiffs, Mary Turk, said she had avoided
seeking medical treatment for colon cancer because she believed doing
so would indicate a breach of faith in God. Meanwhile, reporters from a
local TV station in Oklahoma claimed to have discovered thousands more
Tilton prayer requests at a recycling plant. The requests were promptly
impounded by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Tilton repeated his claim that the trashed prayer pleas were part of a plot against the church.
Texas Attorney General Dan Morales launched a fraud investigation of
Tilton's ministry, and the FBI and the U.S. Postal Service subpoenaed
the church's records the day after the ABC broadcast. Tilton called
Morales "a flea." Morales countered that Tilton was "raping the most
vulnerable segments of our society -- the poor, the infirm, the
ignorant ... who believe his garbage."
Eighteen months later the screen went dark. By the time Tilton
announced the cancellation of Success-N-Life, the show had lost as much
as 85 percent of its audience. Contributions to the ministry had
dropped from seven million dollars per month to two million dollars,
according to Tilton's attorney, J.C. Joyce. "It is a matter of the
media," Joyce said, addressing reporters. "You are responsible for what
has happened to this church." Tilton himself referred to reporters as
The publisher of The Door, a religious humor magazine, also had some
thoughts on the uses of broadcast media. "If there's a lesson
televangelists have learned in the past decade, it's that those who
live by media manipulation may die by the same," wrote Ole Anthony,
whose Dallas-based Trinity Foundation assisted ABC in its expose.
Tilton, Anthony noted, had simply been brought to the sharp realization
that "technology could be a two-edged sword."
Instead of dying, the story broadened. In recent years it has included
libel suits filed by Tilton against both ABC and the Trinity
Foundation. (He lost the former and dropped the latter.) Meanwhile the
Dallas press corps chronicled Tilton's two rancorous, high-profile
divorces and the accelerating decline of his local congregation.
These days the trip to Tilton's Word of Faith Family Church is an
unsettling one. The structure squats near the confluence of two
interstates in Farmers Branch, a suburb of Dallas long devoid of
farmers. High on the facade, careful observers will note, the prairie
wind whistles through a broken pane of stained glass. Bob Wright, a
caretaker pastor put in place by Tilton in the spring of 1996, parks
his white Jaguar a few yards from a disused satellite dish the size of
a sharecropper's shack.
Inside the high-tech tabernacle, thick curtains seal off empty
balconies that once held thousands. Tilton's appointee preaches to a
combination of poor blacks and elderly whites numbering about 130. The
service is a desolate mix of hymns followed by Wright's wandering
exhortations and, finally, a tepid dose of faith-healing during which
parishioners move to the front, receive the laying-on of hands, and
slump to the carpet for a few moments. There's a money plea that winds
things up, but no mention of the absentee landlord. A few months ago,
according to one attendee, the congregation took up a collection for
Tilton's lost scuba gear.
"Not even the church staff seems to know when Tilton will appear,"
wrote the Reverend George Exoo, a Harvard Divinity School graduate and
magazine columnist who visited the church in September. "About once a
month he touches down in Dallas, the rest of the time leaving Pastor
Bob Wright to rebuild the crowds. It's not working."
"The donations probably did not cover the light bill for the night, let
alone the restoration of the beleaguered church," Exoo noted. "My guess
is that the Big Executive has already canceled the show."
Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth. To judge the health
of Tilton's mass-market ministry on the basis of church attendance in
Dallas is a fundamental misapprehension of how his operation actually
works. It also fails to recognize the context of Tilton's troubles.
Lost in the chronicle of his battles with the media, the Texas state
attorney general, and various civil plaintiffs is the fact that Tilton
has all but won the war.
Last summer a $900,000 jury award against Tilton was overturned on
appeal. Eleven other lawsuits have been dismissed, dropped, or settled
out of court. Investigations of fraud in Tilton's ministry by state and
federal authorities have ultimately failed to produce any conviction.
And Tilton has rid himself of the second of two wives whose allegations
of physical abuse and drunken debauchery made for colorful headlines
but in the end were never proven in court.
"After all the headlines and all the investigations and all the audits,
they couldn't find one damn thing that this man or this ministry had
done wrong," says attorney J.C. Joyce. "There never was any dirt on
Robert Tilton. In the end it was all a pack of lies. But there hasn't
been any story about that, has there?"
While church members in Dallas may believe that Tilton has vanished
from the face of the Earth or is busy doing God's work in some Third
World backwater, he is in fact alive and well and living in the world's
capital of second chances: South Florida.
As recently as this past summer, Tilton stated that church revenues
totaled an astonishing $750,000 to $800,000 per month, according to
court transcripts from the Tilton/Valentine divorce. This at a time
when Tilton had been off the air for nearly two years. Only a small
portion of church revenues ($20,000 per month) come from leases on
church-owned property, Tilton said at the time.
Anthony, the Trinity Foundation leader and Tilton nemesis, claims the
physical church in Farmers Branch is little more than a money-losing
prop designed to repel IRS scrutiny of Tilton's tax-exempt status, a
charge Tilton's lawyer vehemently denies. At any rate, 130 hardscrabble
parishioners don't generate $750,000 to $850,000 per month. So where
does the money come from?
The answer is Tilton's mailing list, which once contained 880,000 names
and addresses. Just as national political campaigns depend on mailing
lists of potential contributors, American televangelists know they are
the crucial, invisible keys.
According to former Word of Faith church members, Tilton once employed
hundreds of minimum-wage "prayer warriors" to answer his toll-free
hotline. When viewers called in, their names and addresses were entered
in computer banks. The master list was then used, as it is today, to
generate mass mailings to the faithful -- and more pleas for money --
over and over again.
"Do you need more money?" reads an envelope received by a California
resident a few months ago. Two pennies are visible through a
Inside the envelope is a message from Tilton: "Take the miracle request
prayer sheet that I have enclosed with the coins and carefully write
down the areas of your life (especially financial) where you want me to
release my anointing on your behalf... and then WRITE A CHECK FOR THE
BEST POSSIBLE GIFT THAT YOU CAN GIVE!! Make it a widow's step-of-faith
and give the devil a black eye by placing the biggest, largest, most
generous gift (that would defy natural reason) into God's work."
Tilton includes instructions to pray over the coins and send them back
with a check. "Your two token coins will be placed in my New Testament
Treasury Chest for me to bless every day," he writes. "I will then send
you an anointed miracle coin to use as your miracle reminder and as a
point of contact to carry with you wherever you go."
The mailings are accompanied by testimonials from victims of peptic
ulcers, layoffs, cigarette addiction, deadly spider bites, rebellious
children, infertility, insomnia, and AIDS. Their lives turned around
after they sent money to Tilton. Take "Robert," for example, a miracle
recipient identified by first name only: "Everything was crumbling
around me," Robert explains. "My two best friends had just sued me. My
landlord had served me with an eviction notice. I was jobless and flat
broke. I wouldn't answer the telephone because I knew it would be a
"I was cowering in a chair with all my curtains closed. Heartbreaking love songs gushed from the stereo.... I lit a joint.
"Robert Tilton was praying [on TV]. I can't explain it but I heard him
say, 'You. Right there. You're smoking a joint.' I dropped the joint
and he said, 'You just dropped it.' I started crying. I KNEW IT WAS GOD
TALKING TO ME."
The mailings come with trinkets such as seeds or sand or salt packets.
A Dallas woman received a small strip of red polyester. "Right now this
cloth is plain fabric," Tilton wrote, "but after I send it back to you
it will be a Miracle Cloth saturated with the presence of God."
As Jim Moore, owner of an Oklahoma printing company that handles
Tilton's outgoing mail, explained to a hidden news camera in 1991:
"It's all about names and addresses."
Mailing lists grow stale when the TV screen stays dark too long. Now,
though, it is bright once more. Tilton's toll-free prayer line is up
and running, and his Tulsa, Oklahoma, P.O. box awaits a hoped-for
onslaught from the faithful.
Every weekday between 11:00 a.m. and noon, a fiber-optic telephone line
the size of a human hair carries the voice and image of the 51-year-old
Robert Tilton out of a small TV studio on North Bay Road in Miami
Beach. The signal runs under city streets and across Biscayne Bay until
it reaches the North Miami public television station WPBT-TV (Channel
2). Comtel, a for-profit affiliate of the station, beams Tilton's
brand-new Success-N-Life show up through the heavens to transponder
number one on a satellite owned by Hughes Communications and known as
Unless you own a satellite dish, you can't see Tilton's show in Miami.
You would have to move to Los Angeles, Nashville, Detroit, or Atlanta,
where Success-N-Life began airing on various cable channels in April.
Three months ago Tilton moved into the New York market and now appears
there twice each day.
The new Tilton seems a bit less frisky. Gone are the tantrums aimed at
Satan and his minions. His hair is less flamboyant, almost
grandfatherly in its salt-and-pepperedness. But some of the recent
Success-N-Life segments suggest that Tilton may have broken into a
South Florida wardrobe trailer and discovered a trunk of treasures from
Miami Vice days -- pastel pants, tropical sport coats. ("He's trying to
reach out," says J.C. Joyce. "Suits and ties don't reach out.")
The old studios in Dallas and San Diego were lugubrious dens lined with
leather-bound books. The new set looks like a Sunday-school vision of
ancient Palestine, complete with Styrofoam "stone" walls and a gurgling
fountain. Tilton sits beside the fountain to read samples of viewer
prayer requests. Beyond the sound-stage walls, Tremont Towing does a
brisk trade in impounded vehicles, while across the street workers are
busy building Miami Beach a brand-new Publix. Inside all is peace and
What hasn't changed is Tilton's repetitious message. He quotes a bit of
Scripture and speaks in tongues, but mostly he pushes emotional
buttons: Cancer. Emphysema. Alcoholism. Credit card addiction. Job
layoffs. These ailments can be cured through faith. But faith requires
proof, a "vow." To make a vow, preferably of $1000, call the 800 number
on the screen. (When a New Times writer called the hotline to seek
solace regarding credit card addiction, a telemarketer took less than a
minute recording his name, phone number, address, date of birth, and
type of ailment, promising to pass the information on to Pastor Bob.)
"When it first came out in April, it was pretty much like a normal
religious show," says a source involved in the program's production.
"Then after five or ten shows it started to change. [Tilton] pretty
much stopped talking about Scriptures. It was just a sales pitch. As a
Christian, I find it a little disturbing."
Intercut with Tilton's sermonizing are "testimonials" in the form of
news reports about people who have received miracles after giving money
to Tilton. One recent testimonial featured "Rex and Kay," a Dallas
couple who lost everything when a Sun Belt construction boom went bust.
Within days of sending their last $1000 to Tilton, Rex got a new job
and the pair made plans to build a snazzy new suburban home.
The testimonial, according to its own tagline, was produced by Paul
Pettite. Pettite was laid off by Tilton in the early Nineties.
Ronald Wishna, who is listed on corporate records as the owner of the
Miami Beach studio, declined to discuss Tilton. But another local
entertainment industry source says Tilton and his associates paid cash
up-front for a two-year lease on the 50-by-50-foot sound stage and
invested at least another $30,000 to transform the building's interior.
"These guys are geared up for real, and they're here to stay," the
source says, adding, "They're a real piss to hang out with. They're
just good ol' Texas boys. They like to smoke cigars and drink brandy
and have a good time on South Beach. Tilton told me once, 'I just want
to come here and be left alone.'"
If Tilton is ready for some R&R in the subtropics, it's
understandable. Though he dropped off the national radar screen in
1993, the meltdown of his ministry continued:
*In late 1993 Tilton fired, then divorced, his co-pastor and wife of 25
years, Marte Phillips Tilton. For a time the split seemed amicable. Now
Marte Tilton is suing her ex-husband and his attorney J.C. Joyce for
fraud, breach of contract, and negligent misrepresentation.
In the lawsuit, her summary dumping is described this way: "Ms. Tilton
flew to Fort Lauderdale with two of her children for a short vacation.
The events surrounding this family gathering were strange indeed, and
the 'holiday' ended at 1:00 a.m. July 5, 1993, with Pastor Tilton
announcing that he was leaving Ms. Tilton, and filing for divorce.
Pastor Tilton's parting words were: 'Don't ever return to the office or
Marte Tilton goes on to call Joyce "diabolical" and "the hub of a
master scheme, only recently unearthed, designed to preserve the assets
of the ministry to the extent feasible, maintain Joyce's and Pastor
Tilton's lucrative incomes, and spirit away the ... church's assets."
(At the height of the ministry's success, Joyce's annual retainers from
the church ran between $1.3 and $1.7 million, according to court
records.) She describes the months following the ABC expose as a "blur"
during which Tilton became "depressed and only marginally cognitive"
engaged in a "protracted course of infidelity and avarice." She says
she also came to believe that Tilton and Joyce had tapped her phone and
shadowed her with private detectives.
Joyce, whose other evangelical clients include half a dozen of the
nation's wealthiest preachers, including pastors Larry Lea and Don
Stewart, calls Marte Tilton's allegations preposterous -- "the colorful
product of a lawyer's pen" -- and predicts the lawsuit will be thrown
out of court or withdrawn.
*In March 1994, according to news accounts, police responded to Word of
Faith Family Church to quell a disturbance caused by a walkout of
congregation members. At issue was Tilton's relationship with leaders
of a North Carolina charismatic sect that practices "demon blasting," a
form of prayer that involves sect members forming "prayer circles"
around a child believed to be possessed by demons and shouting at the
subject for hours at the top of their lungs. (The group was later the
subject of a child-abuse investigation by North Carolina state
authorities; no charges were ever filed.)
In Sunday sermons Tilton has credited sect leaders Sam and Jane Whaley
with saving his life in 1993 by casting out his own demons. Tilton was
introduced to Whaley by his second wife, Leigh Valentine, whom he
secretly married in the Dominican Republic on February 10, 1994. Sect
members interviewed by an Inside Edition reporter confirmed that Tilton
visited the group's compound on several occasions and was "treated like
Responds Joyce: "A lot of ministries may look nutty to a lot of people.
Bob later decided that this stuff was not true doctrine."
*In September 1995 Tilton and Leigh Valentine moved into a new $1.6
million home in the Dallas suburb of Addison. Two months later Tilton
filed for divorce from Valentine, only to retract the petition. On
March 11, 1996, he sued for divorce again.
Describing her husband as an increasingly paranoid and abusive
alcohol-fueled adulterer, Valentine first sought to prove that Tilton
and his church were essentially one and the same and that she was
therefore entitled to some portion of the church's $60 million in real
estate and other assets. A panel of judges ultimately ruled against
her; Valentine filed for personal bankruptcy in October. The Dallas
Morning News reports that last month a judge denied Leigh Valentine's
claims of abuse by Tilton and upheld $275,000 in judgments against her.
Valentine said through a spokesman that she plans to appeal the ruling.
*On March 16, 1996, after announcing his call to evangelical work in
Cuba and the Philippines, Tilton named Bob Wright as senior associate
pastor of the Dallas church.
And then he vanished.
When Tilton finally decided to duck and run from Dallas, he did it right.
Picking up his trail in South Florida is no small task. There is no
telephone listing in his name, either published or nonpublished; no
property records in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Monroe counties; no car
registration with the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Corporate
records show that Tilton registered his nonprofit Word of Faith World
Outreach Center Church, Inc. in Florida more than a decade ago, but the
corporation is listed as inactive.
There are a few titillating hints in the court files: a trio of traffic
tickets handed out over the years in Broward (one for doing 93 in a 55
mph zone on Christmas Eve, another for "failure to use due care," and a
third this past April for driving without registration documents).
Computer research reveals twelve addresses used by Tilton in the past
decade, three of them in Fort Lauderdale. But two of those are
commercial mail drops, and the last, a $500,000 waterfront vacation
home in the Rio Vista neighborhood, was sold last year as part of
Tilton's divorce settlement with wife number one. Ditto for his 38-foot
"Not here," says a bartender at a fashionable Las Olas Boulevard
bistro. "He used to sit outside and drink single-malt Scotch, but we
haven't seen him in a few months."
Federal records show that Tilton bought a 50-foot Carver motor yacht
last year in Fort Lauderdale for $500,000. In July 1996 he told a judge
in Dallas that he was living aboard and making $4000 monthly payments
on the boat, which he named the Liberty Leigh.
"I haven't seen him or the boat in over a year," says a resident of
Bahia Mar Marina in Fort Lauderdale, where the yacht was berthed for
"Robert Tilton is an individual who resides in Broward County,
Florida," says the preamble to Marte Tilton's current lawsuit against
her ex-husband. The lawyer who wrote the preamble, James Clutts, says
he doesn't know exactly where in Broward County.
Tilton's trail warms up a few miles south.
The directory in the lobby of an office tower on Michigan Avenue just
north of Lincoln Road in South Beach lists "WOF, Int'l" -- shorthand
for Tilton's Word of Faith ministry.
But Tilton doesn't enter or exit the building. And although there are
plenty of Texas license plates outside his TV studio a few blocks to
the north and west, Tilton's blue Chevy Tahoe isn't attached to any of
A source who owes his paycheck to Tilton and will speak only on
condition of anonymity finally reveals the secret, with a giggle:
"He's on hiatus."
Cross-examination of Leigh Valentine, September 4, 1996, court testimony:
A. Bob's mail ministry is a lie and a total deception. He does not
write those letters. He did not even proofread them during our marriage.
He makes it sound like [he's] writing to you right now, this is what
God spoke to me for your life, Jesus will appear to you tonight; if you
sleep with this little red cord under your pillow, you will prosper.
He doesn't even know what's going out to those people, and he doesn't care, as long as they send their money in.
One time he said in one of the letters that was sent, 'I will be taking
these to the East Coast to pray for you by the ocean where Jesus prayed
for his people.' So we flew to Fort Lauderdale and we checked in to a
four- or five-star hotel on the beach and got a nice penthouse view....
That is stealing from people. Most of those people are on welfare.
They're little Hispanics and blacks. And he even said, 'What I do is I
look at a map and we go after the ghettos, we go after those on
welfare, we go after those that don't read, those that are lower
socioeconomic backgrounds. That's who we send our letters to....'
Q. Have you now given me your full list?
A. No. That's a lot right there. Do you want more?
Q. Well, I wanted the lies that you were referring to in your prior testimony.
A. Just the lies about the trips, that they're ministry church trips, when they have nothing to do with God and ministry.
When we went to Israel, he said it was going to be a holy time, we'd
get away with God, and all he did was drink the whole time I was with
him and lay in bed. And one time he got so sick from the drinking, he
was just in bed, we didn't get to see any of the sights.
We never went to Jordan. We never went -- you know, when we did go to
Caesarea, he drank most of the time, and wanted to go to a fashion
show, and so that's what we did on the church's money.
Ole Anthony, whose Dallas-based Trinity Foundation assisted PrimeTime
Live with its 1991 expose, says he's not dismayed by Tilton's return to
"I don't think there's any way he can make it back into the big time,"
Anthony says. "He needs to go back on the air periodically to
rejuvenate his mailing list, but I think he'll continue to be a minor
player. He's just on too many databases now. There are too many
questions out there about his practices."
Anthony, a former government spy, millionaire businessman, and
Republican candidate for the Texas legislature, underwent a religious
awakening in 1972. After a stint as a religious talk-show host, he
founded a small community of believers in north Dallas who attempt to
live like early Christian apostles. The group also monitors and
investigates televangelists, sometimes with a vengeance. Most of what
is known about Robert Tilton's business operation and his lifestyle has
come from documents and recordings gathered by Trinity Foundation
members during undercover forays and trash sorties.
Are Trinity operatives gearing up for a duel in the sun here in South
Florida? "There's no question we will continue to monitor Mr. Tilton's
activities," Anthony says, "as long as he continues to invite himself
into people's living rooms and mailboxes."
The other two preachers who shared ABC's PrimeTime Live spotlight with
Tilton six years ago have long since left the airwaves, though W.V.
Grant is back in the pulpit in Dallas after serving eighteen months for
income tax fraud. Elsewhere, Jim Bakker was released from parole this
past spring after completing an eight-year prison sentence. The terms
of his parole had reportedly barred him from soliciting the faithful by
mail or TV.
As for Tilton, he was observed at the Miami Beach Marina one recent
Friday night. At first the self-described prophet sat alone with his
thoughts and a plate of stone crabs. Then a well-wisher sidled up and
engaged him in conversation. After a few minutes Tilton paid his tab
and departed, generously donating the remains of his stone crabs to his
In the cool of the evening Tilton bore west across the MacArthur
Causeway, then ducked into the parking lot of the Fisher Island ferry
to avoid pursuit by a reporter.
According to a representative of Fort Lauderdale yacht brokerage Chic
Marine, his boat was repossessed by the finance company earlier this
"He loved that boat," says a secretary who wouldn't give her name. "But
he let the bank take it back so the wife couldn't get it in the
"Your source is a damn liar," Joyce retorts. "Bob just couldn't pay the
bills. He spent everything he had on that woman in eighteen months and
now he simply has no money left."
Joyce says Tilton's recent trip to Israel and Europe was an opportunity
to line up locations for future live broadcasts. He promises his client
will be back in Dallas to preach later this year. (So far Tilton has
not put in an appearance in his Dallas pulpit, according to Ole
Anthony, whose spies have continued to monitor all church services.)
Surprisingly, Joyce says even he doesn't know where Tilton hangs his hat.
"I don't have the foggiest idea," he says. "But if I did, I wouldn't
tell you. We were audited by the IRS. We were investigated by the FBI.
We had twelve lawsuits filed against us. You tell me: How could anyone
stand up under this? The depositions! The interviews! The allegations!
This is an honest minister that has all but been destroyed by the
media. But he survived. He feels comfortable wherever he's at down
there in Florida.