A federal judge has ordered Bishop Anthony Jinwright and his wife, Harriet, to live in separate homes and have limited contact with one another as they await an April 6 trial date on charges of federal tax evasion.
The judge rejected a prosecution request that the couple be jailed immediately pending the outcome of their case.
The Jinwrights, who head Greater Salem City of God, have been free on bond since their 2009 indictment, which accuses them of not reporting $1.8 million in taxable income. Federal prosecutors said the Jinwrights are continuing to commit criminal violations by failing to pay more than $85,000 in taxes.
Federal Judge Frank Whitney agreed Wednesday that the couple was “involved in a continuing conspiracy” but declined to jail them. He momentarily ordered that they be fitted with electronic monitoring devices but later changed his mind.
The judge said the Jinwrights are not a flight risk or a danger to the community. He ordered them to live apart, he said, to prevent further conspiracy.
Franks said the Jinwrights may communicate with one another only for work and to prepare their defense.
Lawyers representing the Jinwrights agreed that the couple had not paid delinquent taxes for 2007 and 2008 but said the preacher and his wife were facing financial woes — a claim prosecutors labeled “absurd on its face.”
U.S. Attorney David Brown presented documents showing that the Jinwrights in 2007 reported total wages of $465,507, which did not include a $160,833 housing allowance and a $42,826 car allowance.
In addition, prosecutors said, the Jinwrights spent about $178,000 in payments on eight vehicles, including two Lexuses, a Mercedes-Benz, a BMW, a Rolls Royce and a Bentley.
Other expenses included $4,000 for car washes, $311,000 in payments on two homes, more than $4,000 for lawn care, more than $9,000 in home repairs, nearly $3,000 for Time Warner Cable and Direct TV, $4,200 in home cleaning expenses and $20,000 in furniture.
“In other words,” Brown told the judge, “if they had gotten rid of their Rolls Royce, they could have paid the taxes.”
U.S. Attorney Craig Randall called it “offensive” that the Jinwrights, given their lifestyle, would now say they can’t afford to pay taxes.
The only witness called to testify was a tax preparer named George Ledbetter, who said he was attempting to negotiate a payment plan with the IRS on behalf of the Jinwrights.
In arguing that the Jinwrights should not be sent to jail, attorney Edward Hinson Jr., who represents Anthony Jinwright, said “the timing could not be worse,” noting the approach of Easter Sunday.
“We are upon the Holy Season for this church,” he said. “These people are the spiritual leaders of that church.”
Hinson also told the judge that jailing the Jinwrights would make it nearly impossible for them to pay their taxes – or adequately prepare their own defenses.
The Jinwrights did not speak during the nearly three-hour hearing and declined to comment as they left the courtroom.