A deacon at Greater Salem City of God testified Monday that she forged the names of two former members of the church onto 23 checks she wrote to pastors Anthony and Harriet Jinwright.
Jacquline Joiner Jones, a member of the west Charlotte church for 17 years and a deacon for two, was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony.
Jones said she forged the signatures beginning in March 2003 while working at the church as a $35,000-a-year administrative assistant. She said the Jinwrights never used the word “forge” and never watched her sign the checks.
The checks totaled more than $66,000.
The largest of the checks, she said, was for $15,000 and was written to senior pastor Anthony Jinwright on Oct. 17, 2006. The smallest was for $75.
The Jinwrights are charged with multiple counts of federal tax evasion. Prosecutors allege that the couple, who were indicted separately, failed to report about $1.8 million in taxable income between 2001 and 2007. During that time, the indictments allege, 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 first interviewed Jones about the checks in 2007, but it wasn’t until last week that they asked her for the name of the person who signed them. When Jones told investigators that she had forged the names, they advised her that she could be charged with forgery and co-conspiracy.
On Monday, Jones came to court represented by a lawyer, who said his client would plead the Fifth Amendment, which bars the government from forcing individuals to incriminate themselves, unless she were granted immunity.
The prosecution agreed.
Once Jones took the stand, prosecutors were given permission to treat her as an “adverse witness” because of her association with an “adverse party.”
In each instance, Jones testified, she wrote the checks after being instructed to do so by either Anthony or Harriet Jinwright. She said the checks were drawn on a Wachovia account associated with the church’s “Women of Faith” ministry.
Nearly all of the checks had the word “reimbursement” written on their memo lines, except for the largest check, which had he word “taxes” written in.
When asked by a defense attorney whether the Jinwrights presented documentation when they requested that she write a check, James said they generally did, though none was presented as evidence.
Jones said she wrote the checks because the Jinwrights instructed her to and because she believed the couple had authority to use the money in any way they wished.
Jones also testified that Harriet Jinwright is a major contributor to the Women of Faith ministry.
She said during court she is now authorized to sign checks for the Greater Salem’s womens ministry.
Earlier in the day, prosecutors called to the stand employees of several area churches who testified about money paid to Anthony Jinwright after speaking engagements.
One of the people called to testify, the Rev. James Sanders Sr. of Bethel Baptist Church in Gaffney, S.C., said his congregation paid Anthony Jinwright $2,000 to preach a revival.
One of the key issues in the trial is whether such payments are considered gifts, or “love offerings,” as they are known in some black churches, or whether they count as income under IRS code.
All of the ministers who testified Tuesday said the money was paid for services rendered.
When asked if Anthony Jinwright requested a certain dollar amount before he spoke at Bethal Baptist, Sanders, who has led the congregation for 61 years and called himself the “great-grand pastor,” said Jinwright did not.
“If he had,” Sanders said, “I wouldn’t have had him.”
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