By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
In Sunday sermons Tilton has credited sect leaders Sam and Jane Whaley with saving his life in 1993 by casting out his own demons. Tilton was introduced to Whaley by his second wife, Leigh Valentine, whom he secretly married in the Dominican Republic February 10, 1994. Sect members interviewed by an Inside Edition reporter confirmed that Tilton visited the group's compound on several occasions and was "treated like God."
As Joyce notes: "A lot of ministries may look nutty to a lot of people. Bob later decided that this stuff was not true doctrine."
In September 1995 Tilton and Leigh Valentine moved into a new $1.6 million home in the Dallas suburb of Addison. Two months later Tilton filed for divorce from Valentine, only to cancel the action. On March 11, 1996, he sued for divorce again.
Describing her husband as an increasingly paranoid and abusive alcohol-fueled adulterer, Valentine first sought to prove that Tilton and his church were essentially the same and that she was therefore entitled to some portion of the church's $60 million in real estate and other assets. A panel of judges ultimately ruled against her, but the final divorce settlement is pending. Valentine filed for personal bankruptcy last month.
On March 16, 1996, after announcing his call to evangelical work in Cuba and the Philippines, Tilton named Bob Wright as senior associate pastor of the Dallas church. And then he vanished.
When Tilton finally decided to duck and run from Dallas, he did it right. Picking up his trail in South Florida is no small task. There is no telephone listing in his name, either published or nonpublished; no property records in Dade, Broward or Monroe counties; no car registration with the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Corporate records show that Tilton registered his nonprofit Word of Faith World Outreach Center Church, Inc. in Florida more than a decade ago, but the corporation is listed as inactive.
There are a few titillating hints in the court files: a trio of traffic tickets handed out over the years in Broward County (one for doing 93 in a 55 mph zone on Christmas Eve, another for "failure to use due care," and a third this April for driving without registration documents). Computer research reveals twelve addresses used by Tilton in the last decade, three of them in Fort Lauderdale. But two of those are commercial mail drops, and the last, a $500,000 waterfront vacation home in the Rio Vista neighborhood, was sold last year as part of Tilton's divorce settlement with wife number one. Ditto for his 38-foot fishing boat.
"Not here," says a bartender at a fashionable Las Olas Boulevard bistro. "He used to sit outside and drink single malt Scotch, but we haven't seen him in a few months."
Federal records show that Tilton bought a 50-foot Carver motor yacht last year in Fort Lauderdale for $500,000. In July 1996 he told a judge in Dallas that he was living aboard and making $4,000 monthly payments on the boat, which he named the Liberty Leigh.
"I haven't seen him or the boat in over a year," says a resident of Bahia Mar Marina in Fort Lauderdale, where the yacht was berthed for several months.
"Robert Tilton is an individual who resides in Broward County, Florida," says the preamble to Marte Tilton's current lawsuit against her ex-husband. The lawyer who wrote the preamble, James Clutts, says he doesn't know exactly where in Broward County.
Tilton's trail warms up a few miles south. The directory in the lobby of an office tower on Michigan Avenue in Miami Beach lists "WOF, Int'l" -- shorthand for Tilton's Word of Faith ministry.
But Tilton doesn't enter or exit the building. And although there are plenty of Texas license plates outside his Miami Beach TV studio, Tilton's blue Chevy Tahoe isn't attached to any of them.
A source, who owes his paycheck to Tilton and will speak only on condition of anonymity, finally reveals the secret, with a giggle:
"He's on hiatus."
Cross-examination of Leigh Valentine, September 4, 1996, court testimony:
Bob's mail ministry is a lie and a total deception. He does not write those letters. He did not even proofread them during our marriage.
He makes it sound like [he's] writing to you right now, this is what God spoke to me for your life, Jesus will appear to you tonight; if you sleep with this little red cord under your pillow, you will prosper.
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 into 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 ....'