Paul Crouch, who founded the Trinity Broadcasting Network with his bewigged wife Jan, has died at 79. He leaves behind a religious broadcasting empire and a badly broken family, one of which has much to do with the other. Excerpt:

The prosperity gospel preached by Paul and Janice Crouch, who built a single station into the world’s largest Christian television network, has worked out well for them.

Mr. and Mrs. Crouch have his-and-her mansions one street apart in a gated community here, provided by the network using viewer donations and tax-free earnings. But Mrs. Crouch, 74, rarely sleeps in the $5.6 million house with tennis court and pool. She mostly lives in a large company house near Orlando, Fla., where she runs a side business, the Holy Land Experience theme park. Mr. Crouch, 78, has an adjacent home there too, but rarely visits. Its occupant is often a security guard who doubles as Mrs. Crouch’s chauffeur.

The twin sets of luxury homes only hint at the high living enjoyed by the Crouches, inspirational television personalities whose multitudes of stations and satellite signals reach millions of worshipers across the globe. Almost since they started in the 1970s, the couple have been criticized for secrecy about their use of donations, which totaled $93 million in 2010.

Now, after an upheaval with Shakespearean echoes, one son in this first family of televangelism has ousted the other to become the heir apparent. A granddaughter, who was in charge of TBN’s finances, has gone public with the most detailed allegations of financial improprieties yet, which TBN has denied, saying its practices were audited and legal.

More:

Relatives and former employees agreed that Paul and Janice Crouch seem to have deep spiritual feelings and believe they are doing the Lord’s work — a belief, according to a former employee, Troy Clements, that seemed to justify almost any extravagance.

Mr. Clements, a former executive at Holy Land Experience, said that when employees questioned decisions like remodeling the cafe three times in six weeks, Mrs. Crouch said, “No one has told me ‘no’ for 30 years, and you’re not going to start now.”

Mr. Clements, who was sales and then personnel director at Holy Land, said that he resigned in frustration in 2008 and that working for Mrs. Crouch had often been “surreal.”

No one has told me ‘no’ for 30 years. Well, there’s your prosperity gospel. Read the whole thing and learn about Jan pushing her lapdogs around in pink strollers, and renting luxury hotel rooms for the pampered pooches. Tammy Faye was dollar-store compared to this woman.

In 2004, the LA Times reported on TBN’s paying $425,000 in alleged hush money to a former employee who claimed to have had a gay affair with Paul Crouch, but who came back later demanding much more money in what appeared to be an extortion attempt. The network’s lawyers denied the allegation. The LAT also reported separately on the Crouchs’ ultra-luxurious lifestyle, and how it is funded. Excerpt:

Much as Ted Turner did for TV news, the Crouches have created a global infrastructure for religious broadcasting. But that is just one element in their success. Another is a doctrine called the “prosperity gospel,” which promises worshipers that God will shower them with material blessings if they sacrifice to spread His word.

This theme — that viewers will be rewarded, even enriched, for donating — pervades TBN programming.

“When you give to God,” Crouch said during a typical appeal for funds, “you’re simply loaning to the Lord and He gives it right on back.”

Though it carries no advertising, the network generates more than $170 million a year in revenue, tax filings show. Viewer contributions account for two-thirds of that money.

Lower-income, rural Americans in the South are among TBN’s most faithful donors. The network says that 70% of its contributions are in amounts less than $50.

Those small gifts underwrite a lifestyle that most of the ministry’s supporters can only dream about.

And:

Workers there deal with a daily avalanche of mail from around the world — poems, prayers, testimonials and donations in a variety of currencies. With surveillance cameras overhead, employees process the mail in an assembly-line-like operation, separating donations from prayer requests. The Spartan decor and brisk pace suggest a bank processing center.

In an adjoining room, employees enter the letter writers’ names and addresses into the direct-mail database, which has 1.2 million names. An in-house printing and mailing operation generates thousands of letters a day asking the faithful to give.

Sheryl Silva of Anaheim is among those who do. She says the network has been a source of strength during difficult times, including a period of homelessness.

“I love to give whenever I can — at least $15 per month,” said Silva, 46, who has glaucoma and gets by on a monthly disability check of about $900. “I give because I don’t want them to go off the air. They might be the only thing good on TV that day.”

What a life Paul Crouch had. That’s the most neutral thing I can muster. If you sell people hope and meaning, you can make millions.