Testifying as a character witness for Bishop Anthony Jinwright, former N.C. state Sen. Robert Pittenger said he met the Greater Salem Church pastor in the 1980s and described him as a “real up and comer” and a “dedicated man who had a lot of respect in the National Baptist Church.”

Pittenger, a Mecklenburg Republican, was the first of several such witnesses expected to testify during the sentencing phase for Jinwright and his wife, Harriet.

The court also heard from a veteran IRS agent who estimated that the Jinwrights failed to pay $1.4 million in state and federal taxes – about twice the amount formerly cited.

The hearing, scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., was delayed about 45 minutes while court officials set up a closed-circuit camera so that an overflow crowd could watch in an upstairs courtroom.

U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney also order lawyers for both sides to make public certain documents that were filed under seal as part of the Jinwrights’ pre-sentence reports. By law, pre-sentence reports are sealed to protect sensitive and personal information, but Whitney ruled that some of the documents submitted under seal by lawyers representing the federal government and the Jinwrights did not met the law’s required burden.

Whitney also cautioned the gallery against outbursts, noting that it would potentially be a long and emotional day.

Pittenger, who retired from the N.C. Senate in 2008 to run for lieutenant governor, said he had visited Greater Salem on occasion and had worked with Anthony Jinwright and others to establish a Christian training center.

He said he was introduced to Jinwright by the late Rev. E.V. Hill, pastor of the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles.

“I had no observation of him at all that would demonstrate a lack of moral integrity,” he said of Jinwright.

Under cross-examination, Pittenger was asked if he would consider tax evasion a “legal and moral failing.”

Yes, he responded.

Pittenger, who is white, testified that although he was familiar with “love offerings,” he described them as a practice much more common in the African American church.

“I think it’s how they express their love for their pastors,” he said.

The practice of collecting “love offerings” from the Greater Salem congregation became a central issue in the Jinwrights’ four-week trial, which ended in May. Witnesses testified that the Jinwrights often collected cash donations from the church, sometimes taking the money home in bags. Prosecutors said the couple never counted that money as income, which the law requires.

Meanwhile, IRS agent Linda Polk said the government’s initial figures were too low when estimating how much the Jinwrights own in back taxes. Estimated in the indictment to be about $85,000, the figure jumped to $664,352 during the trial and now stands at $1.4 million.

In years, 2003, 2004 and 2007, she said, the Jinwrights underpaid by $136,910, $149,443 and $218,471, respectively.

Today’s higher estimate was based on tax years 1991-1993 and 1998-2008, she said. In the Jinwright’s indictment, the government looked only at tax years 2002-2007.

Polk, an IRS employee since 1975, said the higher numbers are based on a closer analysis of the Jinwrights’ income.

Kevin Tate, a lawyer representing Harriet Jinwright, noted several times during Polk’s testimony that only a fraction of alleged under-reported income was generated by his client.

The hearing is expected to continue throughout the day.

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