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

*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 God."

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 fishing boat.

Where's Bob?
"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 several months.

"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 them.

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.

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