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

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 television.

"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 new admirer.

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 year.

"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 divorce."

"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.

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