Bishop Anthony Jinwright, the 53-year-old pastor of Greater Salem City of God, was taken into federal custody Monday night within minutes of being convicted on 13 counts of conspiracy and tax evasion.
His wife and co-pastor, Harriet Jinwright, was convicted on four counts – one for conspiracy and three for tax evasion.
The jury needed slightly more than four hours to reach its verdicts. Dozens of Jinwright supporters wept openly as they left the federal courthouse in uptown Charlotte.
Harriet Jinwright, 50, left the courthouse escorted by her lawyer, Kevin Tate. She was embraced by members of Greater Salem, who used umbrellas to shield her from news photographers. She was then whisked away in the back of a Cadillac SUV (photos below).
Harriet Jinwright declined to offer comment as she left the courthouse.
Anthony Jinwright was booked into the Mecklenburg jail (see photo).
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Brown, who prosecuted the case, described the verdict as “bitter-sweet.”
“This was a difficult case,” he told reporters. “We respect the love and affection that, obviously, Mr. and Mrs. Jinwright’s parishioners have for them. But it doesn’t change the fact that, as this jury found, they were involved in serious criminal activity.”
The Jinwrights were indicted on charges that they failed to report more than $1.8 million in income on their federal tax returns between 2001 and 2007. That number eventually was increased to $2.3 million. During those same years, prosecutors alleged, the couple received more than $5 million in compensation from the west Charlotte church. Prosecutors estimated that the Jinwrights owe the federal government nearly $700,000.
Witnesses in the four-week trial testified that the Jinwrights routinely collected “love offerings” from Greater Salem then took the money home in bags. Others testified that the couple used church money to lease luxury cars, pay for vacations, and to pay their daughter’s college tuition. Much of that money went unreported on federal tax returns, the government said.
The Jinwrights were the government’s second high-profile case in Charlotte in the last three years involving an African American preacher.
In September 2007, the Rev. John Walker, pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church, pleaded guilty to tax evasion, bank fraud and lying to federal agents. He was sentenced to more than five years in federal prison by Judge Frank Whitney, who also presided over the Jinwright trial.
Whitney said Monday that he expects to sentence the Jinwrights within three to six month.
In arguing for acquittal, lawyers representing the Jinwrights said the government failed to prove its case.
Tate, representing Harriet Jinwright, said the federal charges against his client were based on “fuzzy math.”
“You can trust that fuzzy math if you want to,” he told jurors, “but you’re trusting it with someone’s lives… You have the power you may never see again in your lifetimes, the power to stand in judgment of another human being.”
Ed Hinson, defense lawyer for Anthony Jinwright, in closing arguments did not contest that the Jinwrights failed to pay federal tax on portions of their income. But he characterized the underpayments as simple oversights by a preacher who was extremely busy preaching the word of God.
Hinson said prosecutors had no evidence that the Jinwrights ever intended to defraud the government.
“The defendants don’t have to prove their innocence,” he said. “The government has to prove their guilt.”
In the government’s closing statement, Brown said the Jinwrights repeatedly ignored warnings from tax experts and Greater Salem’s own finance administrators that they should include “love offerings” and other forms of compensation as taxable income.
“They didn’t want to get it right,” the veteran prosecutor told the jury, insisting that the case boiled down to “willfulness.”
One by one, Brown reminded jurors of the witnesses who came into court, placed their hands on a Bible and testified that they tried to warn the Jinwrights – only to be ignored, or, in one case, fired.
“They let the church go into financial ruin while they continued to take money out of it,” Brown said. “They weren’t living hand-to-mouth. They were living high on the hog.”
The jury heard from witnesses who testified that Greater Salem’s leadership lavished the Jinwrights with luxury cars and an annual housing allowance that topped $160,000 in 2007. The church had a special bank account used to buy luxury items for the Jinwrights, including Louis Vuitton bags, luggage and clothing.
In 2006, witnesses testified, the church obtained a line of credit so that Anthony Jinwright could receive a $50,000 pay raise.
There is nothing illegal, of course, about pastors being well paid. A federal crime occurred, prosecutors said, when the Jinwrights repeatedly failed to account for this compensation as income.
The Jinwrights, meanwhile, seemed to rely on a defense that stressed the complex nature of the U.S. Tax Code. In other words, their lawyers argued that the couple was hopelessly confused about what was taxable to preachers and what wasn’t.
In the end, the jury found Anthony Jinwright guilty on 13 of 18 charges, all related to conspiracy and tax evasion. He was acquitted on five charges of mail fraud stemming from auto lease applications on which he listed considerably more income than the couple reported on their tax returns.
Anthony Jinwright faces more than 50 years in prison.
Harriet Jinwright was found guilty on four of 13 charges and faces a possible 20 years in prison.
As congregants walked to their cars Monday night, their cries echoed into the darkness along Trade Street.
“What are we supposed to do?” one woman exclaimed to the Charlotte Observer. “We don’t have any other hope!”
“All is well,” another responded. “All is well.”
Later that evening, about 30 cars were seen in the Greater Salem parking lot.
Observer reporter Eric Frazier and Qcitymetro editor Glenn Burkins contributed to this report.
A Jinwright supporter reacts after leaving the federal courthouse Monday night, moments after a jury convicted co-pastors Anthony and Harriet Jinwright of multiple counts of conspiracy and tax evasion. (Photo: Qcitymetro.com)
Supporters use umbrellas to shield the Cadillac SUV that took Pastor Harriet Jinwright from the federal courthouse moments after she was convicted of one count of conspiracy and three counts of tax evasion. (Photo: Qcitymetro.com)