Jury selection is scheduled to begin today in the federal tax evasion trial of Bishop Anthony Jinwright and his wife, Harriet.
Prosecutors say the couple, who head Greater Salem City of God, failed to report about $1.8 million in taxable income between 2001 and 2007. During that time, the indictment alleges, the Jinwrights received more than $5.3 million in payments and reimbursements from Greater Salem, not including gifts and cash given to them by church members.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers have told U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney to prepare for a trial lasting about three weeks.
What to watch:
For all that has been revealed about the couple’s income and spending habits, Harriet Jinwright last fall was declared indigent – unable to pay for her own defense – and assigned a court-appointed lawyer, Kevin Tate.
According to Tate’s LinkedIn profile, he graduated from Indiana University School of Law in 1999 and currently teaches criminal law as an adjunct professor at the Charlotte School of Law. He also worked as a federal defender in Nevada, where he also taught law as an adjunct professor.
Anthony Jinwright will go to trial backed by James, McElroy & Deal, one of the city’s top law firms.
Testimony about spending:
In pre-trial motions, Tate has argued that prosecutors should be barred from presenting evidence that might prejudice the jury “based on wealth and class.”
For example: In 2007, the indictment alleges, 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 that year 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.
How much of that spending should be introduced in court? Is it necessary, for example, to mention the luxury cars by name?
Judge Whitney has yet to rule.
During a pre-trial hearing, Tate said the list of expenses “does shock the conscience,” but he also has argued that the couple’s lifestyle does not prove tax evasion.
Prosecutors allege that the couple, by under-reporting income, failed to pay about $85,000 in federal taxes. Proving that allegation, prosecutors say, may require introducing evidence about the couple’s level of spending versus the amount of income they reported on tax returns.
What did the Jinwrights know, and when did they know it?
Defense lawyers have indicated that they will argue, among other things, that the couple was generally confused about what portion of a pastor’s salary should be reported as taxable income. Prosecutors, meanwhile, have asked the judge to bar defense lawyers from calling outside witnesses to testify about the confusing nature of tax law. Whether or not others are confused, prosecutors argued, does not prove that the Jinwrights were confused.
If the Jinwrights want to argue that they were confused about tax law, prosecutors said, they should take the stand and testify — which, by the way, would open them up to cross examination.
Whitney has deferred ruling on the motion.
Anthony Jinwright’s lawyers also have hinted that they may call an expert witness to buttress the theological basis for Christian preachers being well compensated. In contrast, Harriet Jinwright’s attorney has said that he does not wish to open the trial to theological debate.
What is the role of “love offerings” in the church? Did Greater Salem follow its own rules in setting the Jinwrights’ compensation packages? Did the Jinwrights receive tens of thousands of dollars in reimbursements for travel and other expenses without submitting receipts? And if so, did that count as income?
Those are some of the questions the trial may touched on.
According to the indictment, Anthony Jinwright received more than $4.1 million in payments and reimbursements from Greater Salem between 2001 and 2007. During that same period, the indictment said, Harriet Jinwright received more than $1.2 million.
Although both sides have said they will not delve into issues of church governance, pre-trial hearings have indicated that avoiding the topic may be impossible.
Current and former church members may be called to testify.