Peter Popoff: Conning in the Name of Jesus

Peter PopoffCM asks: “What are your thoughts on Prophet Peter Popoff, and other late night ministries?”

There’s a lot to be said about Peter Popoff, and none of it is good.

For those who never heard of him, Popoff is best known for his sensational healing services in which he would call out the names of people during a service and seem to know all about them. He would invite these people, many of whom were suffering from serious illnesses to “break free of the devil” and throw their prescription drugs on the stage. Impressed by his seeming ability to know personal details about complete strangers – an ability Popoff claimed came from God – audience members would rush to the stage and throw away drugs such as digitalis and nitroglycerine which many needed to stay alive.

Popoff’s attention-grabbing stunts quickly gained him a following. The German-born Popoff, who immigrant to California with his family as a child, started his ministry shortly after marrying his wife Elizabeth in 1970. The ministry was still quite young in the early 1980’s when he began to be broadcast nationally.

But his fame didn’t last long. In 1986, a pair of skeptics discovered that Popoff’s alleged “divine healing” was actually coming from a tiny radio receiver worn in his left ear through which he received information about the audience from his wife. Apparently, she would conduct interviews before the services, asking questions such as “Is Jesus going to heal you? What’s your name, where do you live? Have you had this condition long?” Attendees would often write the information on index cards and Elizabeth would use them to convey info to her husband during the service via a concealed transmitter.

In one of the intercepted transmissions, Elizabeth is overheard mocking a woman with breast cancer: “You ready for a hot one?” she asks her husband. “Ruby Lee Harris. Ruby Lee. She is standing in the far back where there’s no chairs. . . Ruby Lee Harris. She’s against the back wall. She’s got lumps in her breast. You might want to whisper it – have her walk down! Have her run up there. Run! Oh! Look at her run!” Loud laughter is heard on the transmission. “She’s got knots in her breast.” Laughter and giggles ensue once again. “A home run! A home run!”

The investigators recorded hours of these conversations between Popoff and her husband.

Once exposed, Popoff went bankrupt but he’s back at it again.

In 2007, ABC News ran a story on his new shtick, which involves promising healing to people if they purchase a packet of miracle spring water from Russia that he claims protected people during the Chernobyl nuclear accident. In order for the healing to be effective, the person is instructed to sleep with the water for one night, then drink it immediately upon waking. They are then to send the empty packet back to Popoff along with a check for $17.

When 20/20 looked into this scam, they found that after sending in their packet, they began to receive letter after letter asking for money in exchange for miracles. One letter came with a tiny bag of “prayer-blessed” Dead Sea salt that people are instructed to eat over a three-day period, then send $27 to Popoff. The lab hired by 20/20 to investigate the salt found that it was nothing more than standard table salt.

Although we’re tempted to wonder how anyone could fall for this, desperation can be a powerful motivator for the sick and dying, a fact well-known to charlatans like Popoff.

According to ABC, “ . . . [D]onations to Popoff’s ministry soared from $9.6 million in 2003 up to $23 million in 2005. His California home just sold [2007] for almost $2 million, and in recent months, he’s been spotted driving a Porsche and a Mercedes. Together, he and his wife were paid nearly $1 million in 2005, and two of their kids were on the payroll, as well, pulling in over $180,000 each.”

Popoff is not alone in his despicable business of using the name of Jesus to con people.

We can add James Eugene “Gene” Ewing, a former tent preacher who is currently living in a multi-million dollar home while running the very successful St. Matthews Churches scam. 

As for other televangelists, the Trinity Foundation has done a good job of vetting these and other ministries. Although the information on this page is somewhat dated, it remains valuable for those wondering about the legitimacy of a particular minister/ministry.



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