Second Coming

A jet-settin', Scotch-sippin' Robert Tilton washes up in South Florida--and he still wants your money

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.

On Friday, October 10, Robert Tilton checked out of the Hyatt in Jerusalem. Ten days later (and 18 hours after Leigh Valentine described his disguise kit in Dallas), Tilton arrived from Europe at Miami International Airport looking tanned and fit, rather younger than his 51 years.

The next day at noon, Tilton sat down to lunch with eight friends and associates a few blocks from the studio. Topics of conversation: the weather, the new show, and Leigh Valentine's recent DWI arrest. Tilton wore a pair of late-era-Elvis sunglasses, expensive gray slacks, and a white linen shirt with French cuffs.

The party had the look of a modern-day Last Supper, and two of Tilton's favorite apostles were there: J.C. Joyce, fresh from Tulsa, and Daniel Moroso, resplendent in a hundred-dollar haircut and electric-blue silk shirt, who sat across from Tilton.

Moroso, who worked briefly for evangelist Jim Bakker in the early '80s, has served Tilton for years as a confidant and best buddy and executive producer on Success-N-Life. He accompanied Tilton on the trip to Israel last month, just as he has followed him to India and South Africa in past years. In the fall of 1989, when Tilton briefly moved his operation to San Diego, Moroso went with him. The following year, Moroso returned with Tilton to Dallas. Moroso's first wife stayed behind in California and filed for divorce.

Moroso was arrested in 1993 while sitting in a parking lot with a Dallas prostitute and engaging in "oral deviate sexual intercourse." He later pleaded guilty to one count of public lewdness. In July of this year, the 41-year-old Moroso and his new wife bought a $295,000 house on Miami's San Marco Island, about a mile from the studio.

Joyce met Tilton around the same time Moroso did. In 1984 he helped Tilton with a tax audit and has since run virtually every aspect of Tilton's business operation. At the height of the ministry's success, Joyce's annual retainers from the church ran between $1.3 and $1.7 million, court records state.

Joyce's other evangelical clients include half a dozen of the nation's wealthiest preachers. They once included Billy James Hargis, a Tulsa evangelist and virulent anti-communist. Decades ago, Hargis became the first evangelist to tap into the fundraising potential of direct mail by purchasing contributor lists from Barry Goldwater and other conservative politicians. He passed on much of what he learned to up-and-coming attorney Joyce, who went on to represent evangelist Oral Roberts briefly in the late '70s before signing on with Tilton.

Another lesser-known client of Joyce's is the Rev. James Eugene Ewing. For years, from a stucco mansion in Bel Air, California, he has supplied Tilton and other big-name evangelists with computer-driven mass-mail campaigns filled with fractured grammar, homespun homilies, and twisted scriptural interpretations.

One of Ewing's letters, written for evangelist Rex Humbard, reportedly brought in as much as $64 per mailing. In 1968, Ewing, an eighth-grade dropout, doubled Oral Roberts' cash flow almost overnight with another mail campaign, sources say. Roberts rewarded him with an airplane, according to former Roberts aide Wayne Robinson.

Robinson says Ewing travels in a fleet of black Lincolns and Cadillacs with a crew of bodyguards dressed like Secret Service agents. Leigh Valentine claims she and Tilton visited Ewing on five occasions during their marriage and described Ewing's high-security mansion as "dark and spooky."

According to an October 1993 memorandum to Tilton's lawyer, Ewing's latest coup is a computer demographics program that identifies and isolates some of America's poorest sub-ZIP codes and then targets them for Ewing's garish, trinket-driven mailings. "The size of each special area is about two to four city blocks," the memo notes. "And thank God there are tens of thousands of them across the nation."

Joyce says Tilton stopped using Ewing's mailings when he went back on the air in April. "They filled the bill until Bob could get back up and started doing television. Their ministries are not a lot alike."

Joyce noted that he was in South Florida to help out on the design of a new letter campaign. "It's a collaborative effort," he explained, acknowledging that Tilton doesn't actually write the highly personalized letters himself.

Does Tilton pray over viewer prayer requests as he says on TV?
"Absolutely," Joyce contends. "Everything he says he does, he does."
Tilton, Moroso, and Ewing--communicating through Joyce--declined to be interviewed.

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.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help