But Jim Bakker now may have to contend with the Justice Department.

Broadcast regulators have decided not to make a federal case out of a three-year-old investigation of Jim Bakker’s PTL Club, much to the talk show host’s relief.

Without making its reasons public, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sent to the Justice Department results of its inquiry into whether Bakker used money donated for missions to pay debts at home. The FCC also permitted Bakker to transfer his Canton, Ohio, television station to a new owner.

This could be either a victory for PTL or a precursor to criminal charges. By approving the Canton transfer, the FCC placed Bakker safely out of its reach, since it may take discliplinary action only against station owners, not broadcasters. Bakker is a broadcaster, beaming his Christian variety show nationwide from an organization called Heritage Village Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. His foray into station ownership began and ended with WJAN, a UHF station in Canton.

Bakker’s hand-picked successor there, the David Livingstone Missionary Foundation, will continue to present religious broadcasting and will assume $1.4 million in debts that the station accrued.

At PTL, the mood is one of cautious euphoria. A spokesman said, “Bakker is extremely pleased that the FCC investigation is over and that the transfer was made possible by a four-to-three vote,” but he had no comment on the possibility of a Justice Department investigation or on alleged financial mismanagement at PTL.

Ben Armstrong, executive director of National Religious Broadcasters, sees the decision as a complete vindication of the beleaguered Bakker. “If there were a serious problem, then the FCC would ...

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