Twelve primary jurors and three alternates were seated Tuesday in the federal tax evasion case against Bishop Anthony Jinwright and his wife, Harriet.
The 15-person panel is made up of nine women and five men; 10 whites and five blacks.
Unless a plea deal is reached, the jurors will decide whether the Jinwrights, who head the Greater Salem City of God, are guilty of failing to report about $1.8 million in taxable income between 2001 and 2007.
According to the federal indictment, the couple failed to pay about $85,000 in federal taxes. The trial is expected to last about three weeks.
About 60 potential jurors and a handful of subpoenaed witnesses began arriving at the federal courthouse on Trade Street shortly before 9 a.m.
They waited nearly two hours while prosecutors and defense lawyers argued pre-trial motions. Among the spectators was Charlotte City Council member Warren Turner, who declined to respond to media questions.
A man who identified himself as William Henders, a musician and former employee of the Jinwrights’ west Charlotte church, said working at Greater Salem was often frustrating because his paychecks frequently bounced.
“They would say they didn’t have the money to pay musicians, but then they would collect a love offering for themselves,” he said of the husband-wife team.
Henders said it was not uncommon for the church to collect six-figure “love offerings” as a “blessing to the pastor.”
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.
Court records show the couple spent lavishly.
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.
The Jinwrights, represented by separate lawyers, entered Judge Frank Whitney’s courtroom separately Tuesday. Each declined offers to speak with the media, as did several people who identified themselves as Greater Salem members.
When jury selection began, lawyers from both sides peppered potential jurors with questions:
“Would it influence your decision making to know the pastor and his wife are well liked?”
“Is there anything about a pastor living in a nice house or driving a nice car that would bother you?”
Some prospective jurors were asked how long they had lived in Charlotte and where they had lived previously. Others were asked about past run-ins with law enforcement or whether they attend church.
Kevin Tate, the court-appointed lawyer representing Harriet Jinwright, asked potential jurors whether they had been exposed to media coverage regarding the case.
“Do you understand that newspapers are for entertainment?” he asked at one point.
Tate reminded potential jurors that the Jinwrights are being tried separately and asked if they would have trouble judging the husband and wife separately.
One of the lawyers representing Anthony Jinwright asked a woman in the jury pool whether she would be afraid to rule against the IRS.
“Should we be concerned?” she responded.
After a sidebar, the judge assured the jurors that participating in the trial would not lead to an IRS audit. His assurance was met with laughter. One man clapped.
The Jinwights were seated at an L-shaped defense table, Anthony Jinwright and his lawyers facing the judge, Harriet Jinwright and her defense team facing the jury box.
They showed little emotion during the seven-hour proceeding. Several times during the day Harriet Jinwright looked at her husband and smiled.
Some potential jurors hinted at bias.
“I’ve never heard of a love offering before,” said one.
Another potential juror, a man who said he worked for the city of Pineville, said he frequently drove by the Jinwrights’ funeral home in that town.
“I’ve rode by and seen the Bentleys outside,” he said.
One juror, identified as “Mr. Hoyle,” said: “The way he spends his money, if he earns it, is his business. No matter what he’s done, God is his final judge.”
Several others said they hold the clergy to a higher moral standard than they do average citizens. Said one: “I don’t believe that money should have anything to do with religion.”
Each of those potential jurors was dismissed.
When jury selection was completed, Judge Whitney charged the panel to avoid media coverage about the case and not to discuss it with outsiders or among themselves.
“You have to turn your brain into a black slate for the purposes of this trial,” he said. “You can fill out the slate as you hear the evidence.
“This process is going to be a long and deliberative process,” he continued. “It’s not like you see on TV.”
An interesting aside:
Media coverage was limited. A marshal early in the day removed a group of journalists and spectators from the crowded courtroom to make room for potential jurors. When a Qcitymetro.com editor tried to enter around 2 p.m., after the crowd had thinned, a marshal ordered him to leave but offered no explanation. The editor sent a note to the judge asking to be heard. Judge Whitney later apologized, saying it was not his intent to limit public or media access but rather to control in-and-out traffic while jurors were being seated.
“I have no interest in denying access to this trial,” he said, adding that he also must protect the defendants’ rights.
An issue to watch:
What constitutes income for a preacher?
If church members pass a collection plate and give the money directly to the pastor, is that considered income? What if members collect the money outside the church?
After the jury was sent home for the day, prosecutors and defense lawyers spent time arguing that point of law.
Prosecutors insisted that the money should be counted as income in either case. Defense lawyers disagreed, saying church members have a right to make personal gifts to their pastor, which would not be counted as income.
Judge Whitney said he would rule as evidence is presented.
Opening arguments are set for 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Qcitymetro.com editor and publisher Glenn Burkins contributed to this report.