Greater Salem Church, pastored by convicted couple Anthony and Harriet Jinwright, was sold at public auction today for $5.1 million.

The winning bidder was Evangelical Christian Credit Union, the Brea, Calif., lender that held a second mortgage on several pieces of Greater Salem property, including the congregation’s main building and a secondary location in Cornelius.

Although several people came looking to bid on the church properties, no other bids were made after officials at the Mecklenburg courthouse opened with the credit union’s offer, which was submitted in writing.

According to initial foreclosure documents filed in August, Greater Salem had not made a full payment on the note since September 2009. was unable to reach church leader after the auction and could not determine how the sale will affect church operations.

Competing bidders have 10 days to top the credit union’s offer by at least 5 percent, court officials said.

What next for Greater Salem?

Michael Dunlap, who came representing Greater Temple Baptist Church, said he was prepared to bid from $2.1 million to $2.4 million for auctioned properties, which also included a parcel of vacant land north of Rozzelles Ferry Road.

“I’m just a little disappointed,” he said as he was leaving the 11 a.m. auction. “My pastor had great plans for that property.”

A woman who identified herself as a former member of Greater Salem said she came as much out of curiosity as anything else.

“I just wanted to see how it would all end,” said the woman, who declined to have her name identified. “It’s amazing how this church stayed through wars and segregation and everything, and here we are in 2010 and we aren’t able to keep it. That’s the bottom line.”

The woman said she left the church about two months to join another ministry.

“It’s just like I you auctioned your home,” she said. “You’re devastated. You want to know all is well. It bothers me for the people, and the people come first.”

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 owed the federal government nearly $700,000.

Witnesses in the four-week trial testified that the Jinwrights routinely collected “love offerings” from Greater Salemand 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.

Anthony Jinwright was convicted in May on 13 counts of conspiracy and tax evasion. He faces up to 53 years in prison and has been held in the Mecklenburg jail while he awaits sentencing.

Harriet Jinwright was convicted on four counts – one for conspiracy and three for tax evasion. She was allowed to remain free pending sentencing and faces up to 20 years in prison.

U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney has set Dec. 8 as the date he will sentence the husband-wife team.

Editor’s Note: This story is still being reported. Check back for possible updates.

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