The fate of pastors Anthony and Harriet Jinwright is now in the hands of jurors.
At about 4:30 p.m. today, Judge Frank Whitney sent jurors off to begin deliberating after nearly a month of testimony involving dozens of witnesses.
The Jinwrights, co-pastors of Greater Salem City of God, are charged separately in multi-count indictments of tax evasion and conspiracy. Anthony Jinwright is additionally charged with bank fraud.
Government lawyers say the couple failed to report more than $1.8 million in income on their federal tax returns between 2002 and 2007.
In closing arguments for Harriet Jinwright today, defense attorney Kevin Tate said the government case boiled down to nothing more than “fuzzy math.”
He said the government’s entire case is based on numbers and tax calculations that don’t add up.
“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.”
Noting the many checks and documents offered as evidence in the case, Tate said, “People who evade taxes don’t leave a paper trail.”
Tate told jurors that “love offerings” are part of the history of the black church.
“Those folks over at Greater Salem Church don’t need you or anybody else to come in and protect them,” Tate said in ending his summation.
Ed Hinson, defense lawyer for Anthony Jinwright, said he doesn’t contest the fact that the Jinwrights’ taxes weren’t “well prepared.” In fact, Hinson said, the couple almost certainly owe additional taxes, “probably a lot of additional taxes.”
He said Anthony Jinwright, because he was an extremely busy preacher, did not attend to his taxes as thoroughly as he should have. “He’s gotten on the stand and admitted that to you,” Hinson said.
Then, in a faint reference to the million-dollar homes and luxury cars the Jinwrights have owned or leased, Hinson reminded the jury that the Pope, who heads the Catholic church, also lives in opulence.
“Now that’s a nice house,” Hinson said, speaking of the Vatican, its art collection and the Pope-mobile.
Lifestyle is not on trial, he said.
To find the Jinwrights guilty, he said, jurors must believe that the government has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the couple intended to defraud the government and evade taxes.
“The defendants don’t have to prove their innocence,” he said. “The government has to prove their guilt.”
Editor’s note: This article is being updated.
Pastors Anthony and Harriet Jinwright repeatedly ignored warnings that they should include “love offerings” and other forms of compensation as taxable income, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Brown told jurors today during closing arguments in the couple’s tax-evasion trial.
Repeatedly, he said, they ignored advisers who told them that Harriet Jinwright’s mother should get a Form 1099 for church income she earned.
And repeatedly, he said, the couple used their church, Greater Salem City of God, to finance a lavish lifestyle, even as the congregation struggled to pay its own bills.
Brown, in a closing statement that lasted an hour and a half, said deciding the Jinwright case should be “easy.”
“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.
“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.”
He reminded the jury of the testimony of Robert Howze, an Atlanta accountant who testified that for two years he tried to help the Jinwrights come into tax compliance but then walked away when he determined that “the ministry either didn’t have the capacity or the willingness to make the changes.”
“I want you to remember the pain and anguish on Mr. Howze’s face,“ he told the jury, “recalling the deafening” silence in the courtroom as Howze reluctantly explained why he refused to continue as the church’s auditor.
In order to believe that the Jinwrights are innocent, he said, it would mean believing that everyone else who testified in the four-week trial lied.
He told jurors that if they believe each of those witnesses lied, then they should acquit the Jinwright.
According to the federal government, the Jinwrights failed to report about $1.8 million in taxable income between 2001 and 2007. During that time, the indictment alleges, they received more than $5.3 million in payments and reimbursements from Greater Salem, not including gifts and cash given to them by church members.
The defense will have two hours for closing arguments after lunch, then Brown will get another 30 minutes for rebuttal.
Jurors are expected to begin deliberating later today.
Judge Frank Whitney’s courtroom was packed to capacity today, and would-be spectators spilled into the courthouse hallways. At one point, the courtroom doors were locked to coming and going.
Editor’s note: This article will be updated as the day progresses.