By Gary L. Wright
Just two weeks before their trial on tax evasion charges, the pastors of a popular west Charlotte church could be jailed for violating conditions of their release on bond.
Federal prosecutors say Bishop Anthony Jinwright, who heads Greater Salem City of God, and his wife and co-pastor, Harriet Jinwright, are continuing to commit criminal violations by failing to pay more than $85,000 in taxes. The Jinwrights have been free on bond since their 2009 indictment, which accuses the couple of not reporting $1.8 million in taxable income.
Prosecutors have asked U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney to revoke the pastors’ bond. A hearing is set for Wednesday. The Jinwrights’ trial is scheduled to begin April. 6.
The Jinwrights have pleaded not guilty.
Their lawyers disclosed in court documents filed Friday that their clients haven’t paid the overdue taxes because they don’t have the money and have been working with the Internal Revenue Service to set up a payment plan.
The Jinwrights are not flight risks and are not a danger to the community, the lawyers argued, and should not be jailed just two weeks before their trial.
The Jinwrights are charged with tax evasion, conspiracy to defraud the IRS and filing false tax returns.
Anthony Jinwright received more than $4.1 million from 2001 through 2007 from the church, according to the indictment. His salary in 2007 was about $300,000, prosecutors allege. He also got a housing allowance, which increased from nearly $130,000 in 2001 to more than $160,000 in 2007, and annual bonuses totaling about $125,000.
The indictment alleges that Harriet Jinwright got more than $1.2 million from the church during the same time, including a $175,000 salary in 2007, anniversary bonuses ranging from $2,000 to $11,000, and a travel allowance of almost $25,000 in 2001.
The indictment says the couple lived a lavish lifestyle. They’ve leased 18 cars since 2001, the indictment says, including a Bentley GT worth $175,232, a Maybach 57 valued at $244,182 and a Rolls-Royce Phantom worth $352,500. The couple also are accused of using unreported income to buy a $990,000 house on Lake Norman and to lease a $3.7 million house elsewhere.
Last April, Anthony Jinwright issued a statement proclaiming his innocence: “I am not guilty of such allegations. No evidence to support these charges has been presented to me and I therefore await my day in court.”
At an evening Bible study at his church the day after his indictment, Anthony Jinwright sought to reassure his members. “I ain’t been serving you all these years for naught. I have not walked among you 28 years as an impostor, thank God. I know who I am and you know who I am.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Brown, in a motion seeking to revoke the pastors’ bonds, alleged that the Jinwrights owe more than $85,000 in taxes for the years 2007 and 2008.
“The defendants have, and are continuing to commit, ongoing criminal violations of…the Internal Revenue Code…,” Brown wrote in the motion. “Defendants have defied this Court’s order that they ‘shall not commit any offense…while on release.’”
But defense lawyers urged the judge to reject the motion.
“Incarcerating the Jinwrights during this critical trial preparation period will seriously hobble defense efforts to prepare the case for trial,” they argue, “and may even deprive the Jinwrights of the full and proper defense to which they are entitled.”