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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Covering the Jinwright saga

Posted By on Thu, Apr 22, 2010 at 10:12 AM

I'm spending a lot of time in court these days, but not because I've been bad.

I'm covering the Jinwright tax evasion trial for Qcitymetro.com. (You'll also see the same articles on The Charlotte Observer's website thanks to an agreement between the two news organizations.)

If you're just tuning in, you can catch up on the trial here.

If you're really behind, let me clue you in: Anthony and Harriet Jinwright are pastor, or "Bishop," and co-pastor of Greater Salem Church, or "City of God," in West Charlotte. They also have another church on Lake Norman. They also own two other for-profit companies: A. L. Jinwright Ministries Inc. and A. L. Jinwright Funeral Services, which has two locations in Charlotte.

They are in federal court accused of failing to claim $1.8 million in income on their taxes over several years. You might remember them as the pastors with the Rolls Royce Phantom or the Maybach. Or, maybe you've heard of them because of all of the financial trouble their church has experienced over the past few years. Maybe you've noticed their church, just off Brookshire Boulevard, across from the Franklin Water Treatment plant.

Harriet is charged with 13 criminal counts including tax evasion and conspiracy. Anthony is charged with 19 criminal counts, same counts as his wife plus mail fraud. That relates to the cars. According to evidence that's now in the public domain, he was telling the IRS he made significantly less money than he would list on lease applications for his infamous fleet of vehicles.

What they're not charged with: Making and spending a lot of money. Even the clergy are welcome to do that, so long as they're honest about it and give the IRS its cut.

One of the main issues to watch in the trial is this: Are love offerings (aka "love gifts" aka "honorariums") income? How about housing allowances, auto allowances, vacation allowances? What about college tuition for your child? What about retirement monies given directly to a pastor? How about checks meant to cover personal income taxes? How should the money be classified if the person who gave it to you considered it a gift?

It's all very dramatic, and it's all being spread before the public. (I almost wrote "whether they like it or not," but that's not true, is it? They could have pleaded guilty.)

What I'd like to do is give you the behind-the-scenes tour of day-to-day life in the courthouse. And, maybe I will. At this moment, however, I feel like I should keep those observations to myself.

So, stay tuned. The trial is expected to wrap up next late week.

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