Pastors Anthony and Harriet Jinwright took church credit cards on two trips to Las Vegas in 2003, a former finance administrator from their church testified Wednesday.
On one trip in August ’03, the couple stayed at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino and returned with charges for $2,300, $3,400 and $146, according to documents presented by the government in the Jinwrights’ federal trial on charges of fraud and tax evasion. On another trip in December of that year, the couple stayed at the Venetian and charged $902 and $3,400 to church credit cards.
Prosecutors showed a document indicating that the Jinwrights’ church also was billed for more than $1,000 in airfare in relation to one of those Vegas trips.
And while the Jinwrights were submitting bills, said Darlene Perkins, the former finance administrator, Greater Salem City of God was routinely bouncing checks – including payroll checks written to the Jinwrights and others.
“There was never enough money to pay the bills,” she said.
In addition to being a member of Greater Salem, Perkins said she worked at the church from June 2003 to January 2004. She said she left the church and quit her job because she disagreed with how the church was being run.
“I saw a lot of things going on that should not have been going on,” she told the jury. “I did not want to be a part of it and I wanted to part ways.”
Perkins said she tried repeatedly, without success, to get minutes from the church’s board of trustees meeting to verify that the Jinwrights were entitled to the financial compensation they received.
She recounted one instance in which the trustees voted the Jinwrights a pay raise after she and some of the trustees agreed that the church could ill afford it.
“I advised them we do not have the money,” she said of the advice she gave the board.
Perkins testified that on occasions when the Jinwrights’ payroll checks would bounce, Anthony Jinwright would receive payment from the church’s operations account. He also would require the church to cover any overdraft charges he incurred as a result of the bounced payroll check.
Perkins said the church once paid Anthony Jinwright $650 to cover bounced-check charges.
And when the Jinwrights returned from Las Vegas, she testified, she advised them to reimburse the church because the expenses appeared to be personal. It was unclear from her testimony whether the couple did reimburse the church.
Perkins said Anthony Jinwright once instructed her to cut a check to pay his income taxes. But when she wrote the check payable to the IRS, she said, Anthony Jinwright told her to void it and write another one payable to him for the same amount.
She told the jury that she recalled him saying: “If the check was made out to the IRS, we would get in trouble.”
Under cross-examination, lawyers representing the Jinwrights questioned Perkins about her work history and attitude while in the church job.
Kevin Tate, a public defender representing Harriet Jinwright, questioned Perkins about her authority to request receipts from the Jinwrights, who co-pastor the church.
Tate: “No one was obligated to give you anything, were they? …The truth of the matter is, you had a difficult time following the chain of command.”
Tate: “You were fired, weren’t you?”
Perkins: “No, I quit.”
Tate: “What makes you think they had to substantiate anything to you?”
Perkins: “At any company you work for you are required to get receipts.”
Tate: “You are one of a group of disgruntled former members who went down to the IRS, weren’t you?”
Tate: “You felt that you ought to be able to impose your will on your employer.”
Perkins: “No, I didn’t”
Tate: “So when you left the church there wasn’t any money in the operating account?”
Tate: “You squandered that money?”
At one point during the cross examination, Judge Frank Whitney cautioned Tate to avoid being argumentative.
During redirect, Assistant U.S Attorney David Brown showed the court tax documents indicating that the Jinwrights claimed expenses of more than $800,000 in 2003.
Brown then asked Perkins, who earned $45,000 while working at the church, whether she had spent that much in 2003.
“No,” she responded.
Perkins also testified that Harriet Jinwright once altered a year-end profit-and-loss statement that Perkins had prepared to show that the church had positive income, even though, Perkins said, the church had operated in the red that year.
Perkins said Anthony Jinwright instructed her to shred the original document. Instead, Perkins said, she took the original document home and later gave it to a friend “for safe keeping.”
Perkins said she took the document “because I wanted to bring it today. I knew this would happen.”
Perkins said the Jinwrights instructed church leaders not to count or deposit some collections taken at Greater Salem.
“I had a conversation with them about how that money should be deposited into the operations account,” she said.
Perkins said she also advised the Jinwrights that travel and vacation expenses should be run through payroll so that proper taxes could be withheld, and that a $6,531 tuition check written to Johnson C. Smith University on behalf of the Jinwrights’ daughter should be counted as income for them.
Perkins said that each time Anthony Jinwright went out on a speaking engagement he’d collect a $2,500 check from Greater Salem. During one four-day period in July 2003, she said, he received two such checks.
Previous witnesses have testified that Anthony Jinwright was typically paid by the churches he visited, and that he often sent letters to those churches requesting first-class airfare and hotel accommodations. A previous witness who once served as Anthony Jinwright’s personal assistant testified that he was often required to travel with the senior pastor. The witness said Greater Salem generally paid for his travel-related expenses.
–Charlotte City Council member Warren Turner was called to the stand Wednesday to testify about payments made to the Jinwrights by his church, Silver Mount Baptist. Turner said he grew up in the church and has been a deacon there for seven years. He said that in 1991 and 1992 his congregation paid Anthony Jinwright $3,600 for revival services and paid Harriet Jinwright $200 in 2002 for reasons he could not recall.
–A second juror – a white female — was dismissed Wednesday after Perkins told prosecutors that she recognized the women from a previous job and that she had talked to the woman about Greater Salem. Another white female was dismissed earlier under a hardship appeal. The 15-person panel is now down to 13 – eight whites and five blacks – with only one alternate juror remaining.
ISSUES TO WATCH:
–For the seventh time since the trial began last week, defense lawyers have requested a mistrial. Two such requests occurred Wednesday in the presence of jurors, which drew an angry response from prosecutor Brown. “Seven motions for a mistrial in one case,” he said. “I’ve never seen it before.” Judge Whitney agreed: “I’ve never seen so many either.” The judge later said he understood that the attorneys must do their jobs. Wednesday’s requests for mistrials came during testimony that defense lawyers said was too much involved in theology and church governance.
–Judge Whitney let it be known that he wants to speed this trial along. With the jury out of the room, he said: “We’re going to be here till July if we don’t tighten up. I’m going to start cracking down. I’m serious when I say that, so don’t tempt me.” Qcitymetro.com reported yesterday that the Jinwright trial may go longer than anticipated.
–Prosecutors told Judge Whitney Wednesday that a subpoenaed witness has refused to take the government’s telephone calls. They notified the judge that a warrant may be required. The potential witness was not named.
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