Peter Popoff

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Peter Popoff
Born Peter George Popoff
(1946-07-02) July 2, 1946 (age 69)
West Berlin, Germany
Residence Bradbury, California
Occupation Televangelist
Years active 1977–present
Religion Charismatic Christian
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Popoff (1970–present)
Children Amy Cardiff, Nickolas Popoff, Alex Popoff

Peter Popoff (born July 2, 1946) is a German American televangelist, con artist and self-proclaimed prophet. He conducts revival meetings and once hosted a national television program. He initially rose to prominence in the 1980s. In 1986, skeptics exposed his method of receiving supposedly divine revelations from his wife via an in-ear radio receiver.[1][2][3] Popoff declared bankruptcy in 1987 after his tactics were exposed,[4] but he has since made a comeback using similar techniques. According to Fred M. Frohock, "the case of Peter Popoff is one of many egregious instances of fake healing".[5] "Most of these guys are fooled by their own theology", said Ole Anthony of the Trinity Foundation, which has investigated Popoff and other televangelists since 1987. "He’s fundamentally evil, because he knows he’s a con man."[6]

Early life and career[edit]

Popoff was born in West Berlin, West Germany on July 2, 1946, to George and Gerda Popoff. As a child, Popoff emigrated with his family to the United States, where he attended Chaffey College and University of California, Santa Barbara.[7][8]

Popoff married his wife Elizabeth in 1970 and the couple settled in Upland, California. He then began his television ministry that, by the early 1980s, was being broadcast nationally.[2] His miraculous "curing" of chronic and incurable medical conditions became a central attraction of his sermons. Popoff would tell attendees suffering from a variety of illnesses to "break free of the devil" by throwing their prescription pills onto the stage. Many would obey, tossing away bottles of digitalis, nitroglycerine, and other important maintenance medications.[9] Popoff would also "command" wheelchair-bound supplicants to "rise and break free". They would stand and walk without assistance, to the joyous cheers of the faithful. Critics later documented that the recipients of these dramatic "cures" were fully ambulatory people who had been seated in wheelchairs by Popoff's assistants prior to broadcasts.[10]

In 1985 Popoff began soliciting donations for a program to provide bibles to citizens of the Soviet Union by attaching them to helium-filled balloons and floating them into the country.[11] When skeptics asked him to prove that the money he had collected had in fact been spent on bibles and balloons, Popoff staged a burglary at his own headquarters. On subsequent broadcasts he tearfully begged for additional donations to help repair the damage.[12]

Investigation by James Randi[edit]

At the height of his popularity in the 1980s, Popoff would accurately announce home addresses and specific illnesses of audience members during his "healing sermons", a feat that he implied was due to divine revelation and "God-given ability".[13] In 1986 the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry charged that Popoff was using electronic transmissions to receive his information; Popoff denied it, insisting that the messages were divinely revealed.[14] Skeptic groups distributed pamphlets explaining how Popoff's feats could be accomplished without any sort of divine intervention. Popoff branded his critics "tools of the devil".[2]

Popoff's methods were definitively exposed in 1986 by the magician and skeptic James Randi and his associate Steve Shaw, an illusionist known professionally as Banachek, with technical assistance from the crime scene analyst and electronics expert Alexander Jason.[1] With computerized scanning equipment, Jason was able to demonstrate that Popoff's wife, Elizabeth, was using a wireless radio transmitter to broadcast information that she and her aides had culled from prayer request cards filled out by audience members. Popoff received the transmissions via an in-ear receiver and repeated the information to astonished audience members. Jason produced video segments interspersing the intercepted radio transmissions with Popoff's "miraculous" pronouncements.[15]

Randi also planted accomplices in Popoff's audiences, including a man dressed as a woman whom Popoff "cured" of uterine cancer.[9] Randi and Shaw recorded Elizabeth Popoff using a racial slur to describe an African-American audience member, and warning her husband to "...keep your hands off [her] tits ... I'm watching you." At another healing session, Elizabeth and her aides were heard laughing uncontrollably at the physical appearance of a man suffering from a terminal stage of testicular cancer.[16]

In May 1986, Randi presented one of Jason's videos on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.[17] Popoff initially denied Randi's accusations and accused NBC of "...[hiring] an actress to impersonate Mrs. Popoff on a doctored videotape". Eventually Popoff admitted the existence of the radio device, but claimed that Elizabeth only "occasionally" gave him "the name of a person who needs special prayers". He added that "almost everybody" knew about the wireless communication system.[18] His ministry's viewer ratings and donations declined significantly after the Carson airing, and in September 1987 he declared bankruptcy, listing more than 790 unpaid creditors. Popoff’s attorney, William Simon, “attributed the collapse of his ministry to financial mismanagement more than to disclosures about Popoff.”[4] Jason's video footage was also aired on the NOVA episode "Secrets of the Psychics" in 1991. The episode was released on video as part of a lesson in critical thinking.[19]


In 1998, The Washington Post reported that Popoff was making a comeback, seeking to jump-start his ministry by repackaging himself for an African American audience, buying time on the Black Entertainment Television Network. Popoff, along with Don Stewart and Robert Tilton, received "criticism from those who say that preachers with a long trail of disillusioned followers have no place on a network that holds itself out as a model of entrepreneurship for the black community".[20]

A February 2007 Inside Edition segment reported that Popoff's new infomercials depict him "healing the sick" in a manner identical to his methods prior to James Randi's exposé. Victims were interviewed, including a married couple who charged that Popoff had taken "thousands of dollars" from them. Popoff refused to comment. "Flim flam is his profession," Randi explained to reporter Matt Meaghan. "That's what he does best. He's very good at it, and naturally he's going to go back to it."[21] In May 2007, ABC's 20/20 focused on Popoff's comeback and explored the lives of a few people who felt cheated.[22] Various other media outlets have run similar stories.[23][24][25][26] In July 2008, a Nanaimo, British Columbia resident was reimbursed by Popoff after she went public with her concerns over his fundraising tactics.[27]

Popoff was designated by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) as one of its recipients of the 2011 Pigasus Award for fraudulent practices, along with Mehmet Oz (from The Dr. Oz Show) and CVS Pharmacy.[28] "Debt cancellation is part of God's plan", according to Popoff, who teaches that God will respond to prayer and seed-faith by providing financial blessing. wrote a blog post concerning Popoff's claims.[29] However, when Senator Chuck Grassley singled out six US televangelists for investigation regarding mishandling of finances, Popoff's ministry was not included.[30][31]

In 2008, the UK broadcasting regulator Ofcom issued strong warnings to broadcasters for transmitting Popoff's material, which the regulator felt promoted his products "in such a way as to target potential susceptible and vulnerable viewers". These programs included offers of free "Miracle Manna" that allegedly provided health and financial miracles. In 2009, Popoff began running advertisements in UK periodicals offering a free cross containing "blessed water" and "holy sand". The water, he claimed, was drawn from a spring near Chernobyl (site of the 1986 nuclear reactor disaster). Animals and humans drinking from the spring were purportedly spared radiation sickness. Responders to the ad received a small wooden cross bearing the inscription "Jerusalem" and a solicitation for donations, followed by numerous additional solicitation letters.[32]

Popoff continues to offer his Russian "Miracle Spring Water" on late-night infomercials in the US and Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.[33] Respondents are promised miraculous protection from disease and disability, along with financial prosperity (which may include "divine money transfers directly into your account"), if they sleep with the water for one night before drinking it, then pray over the empty packet and send it back to Popoff — with a donation. Multiple solicitation letters follow, requesting more donations in exchange for miracles.[34]

Currently, Popoff's "People United For Christ" organization has a "Did Not Disclose" rating with the Better Business Bureau, indicating its refusal to disclose information that would enable BBB to determine adherence to its Standards for Charity Accountability.[35] "Since making his comeback to television," BBB said, in its review, "Popoff appears to have resumed his faith healing sessions in a manner identical to his method prior to his exposure as a fraud."[36]

Popoff's longtime assistant Reeford Sherrell, now calling himself Pastor Lee Sherrell, has also begun a televised Texas-based ministry. Like Popoff, he uses an offer of a religious trinket (in this case, a free prayer cloth) to compile an address list. Once a follower requests the prayer cloth and inputs his or her address, letters asking for money are dispatched.[9]

In September 2015, Michael Marshall of the Good Thinking Society showed how Popoff was trying to persuade people to send him money on promises of "fabulous extreme fortune" and "miracles". Moreover, at a recent London gathering, GTS filmed how Popoff supposedly 'healed' a woman 'who said her body was wracked with pain', but who Marshall and his colleague believed could have been planted in the audience as part of Popoff's team: they saw she was handing out pens and a questionnaire at the start of the event, and quietly left the room soon after the alleged miracle.[37]

Financial details[edit]

Popoff was collecting almost $4 million per year in the late 1980s, according to Randi.[38] In 2003 his ministry received over $9.6 million, and in 2005, over $23 million. In that year, he and his wife were paid a combined salary of nearly $1 million, while two of his children received over $180,000 each.[39] Financial data is not available for Popoff's ministry since 2005 because Peter Popoff Ministries changed from a for-profit business to a religious organization in 2006, making it tax-exempt.[6] Popoff purchased a home in Bradbury, California, for $4.5 million in 2007.[40] He drives a Porsche and a Mercedes-Benz.[41]

In popular culture[edit]

The 1992 Steve Martin dramedy film Leap of Faith was inspired by Popoff and his wife's fraudulent ministry. The film's main character is a faith healer who claims to read people's minds but actually receives intimate details about his victims via a small radio. The film went on to be adapted into a 2012 Broadway musical of the same name, and was subsequently nominated for the Tony Award for Best Musical.[15]

Popoff was also the inspiration for a character in the 2012 thriller film Red Lights, a psychic who uses information fed to him via a hidden earpiece to persuade the audience at his shows that he is receiving personal details psychically. The film includes Liz Popoff's infamous line, "Hello Petey, can you hear me? If you can't, you're in trouble", nearly verbatim.[42]

Heavy metal band Death's 1990 album Spiritual Healing was written in response to Popoff being outed as a fraud on The Tonight Show.[43]


  • 3 Steps to Answered Prayer. Faith Messenger Publications (1981) ISBN 0-938544-10-1 (91 pages)
  • Calamities, Catastrophes, and Chaos. Faith Messenger Publications (1980) ISBN 0-938544-01-2
  • Dreams: God's Language for Life More Abundantly. Publisher: People United For Christ (1989) ASIN B000NSMW2S (88 pages)
  • Forecasts for 1987. (1984) ASIN B000B8K0MY (33 page booklet)
  • God Has Promised You Divine Wealth
  • God's Abundant Blessings
  • Prosperity Thinking
  • Releasing the Power of the Holy Spirit in Your Life
  • Guaranteed Answered Prayer
  • Demons At Your Doorstep. Faith Messenger Publications (May 1982) ISBN 0-938544-13-6 (50 pages)
  • Six Things Satan Uses to Rob You of Gods Abundant Blessings. Faith Messenger Publications (April 1982) ISBN 0-938544-11-X (93 pages)


  1. ^ a b Randi, James (February 22, 2008). "NEW FOR TAM6!". James Randi Educational Foundation. 
  2. ^ a b c Randi, James (1989). The Faith Healers. Prometheus Books. pp. 2, 147. ISBN 978-0-87975-535-5.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "FaithHealers" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  3. ^ Blackmore, Susan J. (2000). The Meme Machine. Oxford University Press. p. 193.
  4. ^ a b Dart, John (September 26, 1987). "Evangelist Popoff Off Air, Files Bankruptcy Petitions". Los Angeles Times. 
  5. ^ Frohock, Fred M. (2000). Lives of the Psychics: The Shared Worlds of Science and Mysticism. University of Chicago Press. pp. 76–77.
  6. ^ a b Maag, Christopher (22 September 2011). "Scam Everlasting: After 25 Years, Debunked Faith Healer Still Preaching Debt Relief Scam". Business Insider. Retrieved 15 August 2013. 
  7. ^ [1]. Archived March 10, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Wilcox, Bruce G.; Yang, Henry T. (Foreword). "The Annual Report of Private Giving for the Year Ending June 30, 2011" (PDF). University of California, Santa Barbara. Retrieved May 28, 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c Seckel, Al (1987). "GOD'S FREQUENCY IS 39.17 MHz: THE INVESTIGATION OF PETER POPOFF". University of Colorado at Boulder. Originally published in Science and the Paranormal.
  10. ^ Seckel, Al (1987). "God's Frequency is 39.17 MHz: The Investigation of Peter Popoff". Science and the Paranormal. Retrieved 2006-05-06. 
  11. ^ Johnston, David; Leonard, Jennifer (1985-01-20). "Tv Charities: Let The Giver Beware". Los Angeles Times. 
  12. ^ "Peter Popoff - Scamming us again". Canadian Quackery Watch. HealthWatch. Retrieved May 28, 2014.
  13. ^ [full citation needed]Friedman, Jason (2006-05-08). "Reverend Rip-Off". WDAF Fox 4 News. 
  14. ^ "TV EVANGELIST DENIES USE OF RADIO IN HEALING SERVICE". Philadelphia Inquirer. July 15, 1986. Retrieved 2009-02-19. 
  15. ^ a b Daniel, Danica (April 24, 2012). "Are You Ready For a Miracle? How Leap of Faith Jumped From the Movie Screen to Broadway".
  16. ^ James Randi on Peter Popoff and Skepticism on YouTube.
  17. ^ Randi (1989), p. 142.
  18. ^ Randi (1989), p. 143.
  19. ^ NOVA Teachers (19 October 1993). "Secrets of the Psychics. Program Overview". PBS. 
  20. ^ "White Preachers Born Again on Black Network; TV Evangelists Seek to Resurrect Ministries". The Washington Post. September 3, 1998. Retrieved September 4, 2011. 
  21. ^ "A Profitable Prophet". Inside Edition. February 27, 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-01. 
  22. ^ Avila, Jim (11 May 2007). "Selling Salvation?". 20/20. Retrieved 2007-03-01. 
  23. ^ "Miracle Water: Ripoff or For Real Part II". KIDK. November 5, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  24. ^ "Prophet or profit?". KOMO-TV. October 9, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  25. ^ "Prophet or profit? Televangelist makes comeback". KATU. October 10, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  26. ^ Sedensky, Matt (21 July 2007). "Abracadabra! The fraud is exposed". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  27. ^ Bellaart, Darrell (July 21, 2007). "Televangelist gives back woman's cash: Nanaimo resident was concerned about Peter Popoff's fundraising methods". Nanaimo Daily News. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  28. ^ Randi, James (2011). "The 5 Worst Promoters of Nonsense". James Randi Educational Foundation. Retrieved May 28,2 014.
  29. ^ Maag, Christopher (21 September 2011). "Scam Everlasting: After 25 Years, Debunked Faith Healer Still Preaching Debt Relief Scam". Retrieved 2011-09-23. 
  30. ^ "Senate Panel Probes 6 Top Televangelists". CBS News. 
  31. ^ "Sen. Grassley probes televangelists' finances". USA Today. 2007-11-07. 
  32. ^ "Broadcast Bulletin Issue number 117". Ofcom. September 15, 2008. Retrieved May 28, 2014.
  33. ^ "Peter Popoff Worldwide TV Schedule". Peter Popoff Ministries. Archived from the original on 2008-04-05. Retrieved 2008-04-13. 
  34. ^ Controversial Televangelist Peter Popoff Hawks 'Miracle Water'. Christian Post archive. Retrieved February 12, 2015.
  35. ^ People United for Christ,
  36. ^ "People United for Christ". BBB Wise Giving Alliance. Better Business Bureau. Retrieved 15 August 2013. 
  37. ^ Andrew Penman (24 September 2015). "Two very different charlatans both selling the divine right to get rich quick". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 24 September 2015. 
  38. ^ "Secrets of the Psychics". NOVA. October 19, 1993. Retrieved 7 May 2013. 
  39. ^ "Selling Salvation?". ABC News. May 11, 2007. Retrieved 2011-04-20. 
  40. ^ "430 Long Canyon Road, Bradbury, CA 91010". BlockShopper. Retrieved May 28, 2014.
  41. ^ Avila, Jim (May 11, 2007). "Selling Salvation?". ABC News.
  42. ^ French, Chris (2012-06-15). "How true to life are the psychics and psychologists in Red Lights?". The Guardian. 
  43. ^ "DEATH - Spiritual Healing (1990)". Chamber of Ages. April 3, 2012.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Official and critical