Orthodox Canadian Jew Buys Bakkers’ Ptl Empire

An Orthodox Jew from Toronto is buying the bankrupt PTL empire of Christian television evangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker.

News that Stephen Mernick, 34, put in the winning bid of $115 million for the PTL assets, mostly in Fort Mill, S.C., surprised the Jewish community here, where Mernick, a third-generation Torontonian, has been something of a mystery man.

The bid was disclosed by the PTL ministry at a news conference Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C., attended by Mernick’s lawyers.

Mernick himself remained at home because he would not travel on Simchat Torah. He was quoted by his lawyers as saying PTL property should continue to be used for Christian purposes.

It includes a television studio, the Heritage USA theme park, a campground, a church and private housing. PTL’s debts exceed $130 million.

If the creditors and U.S. bankruptcy court support the recommendations of trustee M.L. Benton, Mernick must come up with $50 million by Dec. 1, when the deal is closed. The balance is payable in annual installments until 1993.

Mernick’s businesses in Canada are real estate, a travel agency, garbage collection, clothing and waste recycling. They are said to have annual sales of $5 million.

Six months ago, Mernick successfully bid $100 million for the Firestone tire plant in Hamilton, Ont. It has ceased producing tires and Mernick apparently intends to sell off its assets.

Mernick is a member of the Clanton Park Synagogue, an Orthodox congregation in the Toronto suburb of Downsview. He wears a beard and has appeared on television in the black cloak and black felt hat of an ultra-Orthodox Jew.

At the news conference in Charlotte, his lawyers read a statement in which Mernick said: “While I am not a Christian, I have a great deal of respect for the depth of the religious feeling of the many thousands of Christians who have supported the Heritage Ministries over the years.”

According to some observers, that statement might indicate that Mernick is inviting bidders to lease or purchase the property for Christian purposes.

But his lawyers told the Toronto Globe and Mail that Mernick has not decided what to do with the property.

The PTL filed for protection against creditors in June 1987, three months after Bakker resigned the ministry after admitting to a sexual encounter with a young church secretary.

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