Bishop Anthony Jinwright, convicted last month on 13 counts relating to tax fraud, should remain behind bars while he awaits sentencing, federal prosecutors said Monday.
Responding to a Jinwright motion for release, prosecutors asked Judge Frank Whitney to deny the convicted preacher’s request.
The senior pastor of Greater Salem City of God has been detained in the Mecklenburg jail since the night of May 3, immediately after a jury convicted him on six counts of tax evasion, six counts of filing a false tax return and one count of conspiracy to defraud the IRS.
He is expected to be sentenced later this year.
In his decision to jail the 56-year-old preacher, Whitney said Jinwright posed “an economic threat to the safety of the community.”
During Jinwright’s four-week trial, some witnesses testified that he routinely collected “love offerings” from Greater Salem and took the money home in bags. Others testified that Jinwright and his wife, Harriet, 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 the couple’s federal tax returns, the government said.
In papers filed to the court on May 28, Jinwright’s lawyers argued that economic danger is not a proper basis for detaining their client. And even if it were, they argued, any economic danger could be reduced or eliminated through close supervision by the court.
In return for his release, Jinwright offered to resign from all roles relating to financial decisions at Greater Salem. He said he would accept no funds from the church above $300,000 and would not solicit contributions from individual members while on church property. He also offered to accept close supervision by the federal probation office.
In the government’s 11-page response Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Randall argued that economic danger is, indeed, a proper grounds for detention, citing several cases – including the 2009 detention of disgraced (and now convicted) financier Bernie Madoff.
Randall also argued that the government would be in danger of violating the First Amendment to the Constitution if the court attempted to regulate the relationship between Jinwright and Greater Salem.
“…the (Greater Salem) congregation and Board of Directors are protected under the aegis of the First Amendment, and the United States Government may not engage in the excessive entanglement with the Church,” Randall wrote. “Contrary to this well-settled principle of United States constitutional law, and one relied upon quite heavily by Defendant when the posture of this case was different, Defendant now requests that this Court impose pre-sentencing supervisory conditions that he claims would prevent him from causing any further economic harm to his church so he can obtain a bond.”
Randall noted that Harriet Jinwright, who also was convicted on tax-related charges but allowed to remain free pending sentencing, had not endorsed any government role in regulating her husband’s relationship with Greater Salem.
Finally, prosecutors urged the court to deny Jinwright’s bond request on the grounds that he also poses a “significant flight risk.”
In a footnote, prosecutors said Jinwright faces a potential prison sentence “well in excess of 10 years.”
“Before the jury convicted Defendant, he and Mrs. Jinwright enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, owning several expensive houses and vehicles,” the prosecutor wrote. “Because prison will be a dramatic reduction in the lifestyle that Defendant has become accustomed to, he poses a higher flight risk to avoid this change.”
Judge Whitney has not set a date for ruling on Jinwright’s request for bond.