CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- People supporting a Charlotte pastor and his wife packed two courtrooms on Wednesday, waiting for the outcome of the sentencing phase of the couple’s trial.
Anthony and Harriet Jinwright arrived at the courthouse Wednesday at 8:45 a.m. to learn if they'll spend years behind bars for conspiracy and tax evasion. A number of witnesses took the stand, for both the prosecution and the defense, throughout the day Wednesday.
The Jinwrights were convicted in May by a federal jury following a dramatic four-week trial that put the couple's lavish life of luxury cars and expensive trips on display. It ended with loyal congregants sobbing in disbelief as federal marshals took Anthony Jinwright into custody.
Anthony Jinwright, 54, was convicted on 13 of 18 charges, including conspiracy and multiple counts of filing false tax returns and tax evasion. The charges carry a maximum punishment of 53 years in prison. He was acquitted on five counts of mail fraud.
Harriet Jinwright, 51, was found guilty on four of 13 charges, including conspiracy and tax evasion. Those charges carry a maximum of 20 years in prison. She was acquitted on three counts of tax evasion and six counts of filing false tax returns.
Defendants seldom get the maximum punishments unless they have lengthy criminal records, which the Jinwrights don't.
Some church members, like Venita McCullough, say the Jinwrights didn't do it, despite their convictions.
"He's not guilty,” McCullough said. "They're going to be okay, they are going to come out of this."
In court an IRS agent testifying for the prosecution said altogether the total tax loss to the IRS and state adds up to about $1.4 million, including tax returns from the 1990's.
A former IRS investigator testifying for the defense during sentencing says he has no confidence in the numbers provided by the IRS and the problem was incompetent accounting plus payroll and W-2 errors.
"There's nothing good that's come out of this. We just hope and pray for the best,” said Theodore Armstrong.
Prosecutors say the Jinwrights lived an extravagant lifestyle and accused the pastors of failing to report more than $2.3 million in taxable income from 2002 to 2007. They failed to pay nearly $700,000 in taxes, prosecutors said.
In their 2007 joint returns, the Jinwrights reported their total wages as $465,507, according to prosecutors. That didn't include a housing allowance of $160,833 and car allowance of $45,826.
Prosecutors revealed in court documents some of the Jinwrights' expenditures in 2007: about $178,000 for eight vehicles; $4,000 for car wash expenses; $311,000 for their two homes; $4,000 in lawn care; nearly $3,000 for Time Warner Cable and DirecTV; and more than $4,000 for house cleaning expenses.
Last month, Greater Salem Church filed for bankruptcy protection. The church properties also were auctioned off in a foreclosure sale.
Anthony Jinwright, testifying in his defense during the trial, acknowledged taking "too much" in pay from his congregation but insisted he wasn't guilty of fraud or tax evasion. He also acknowledged he could have better handled his tax payments and his church's finances.
During the opening statements in the Jinwrights' trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Randall sought to counter critics who might view the charges against the pastors as an attack on religion. He told jurors the pastors were not on trial for making a lot of money or for their religion.
"What they're charged with is failing to report the income they received...," Randall said. "They had a duty to report their income, and they didn't do it."
The Jinwrights' attorneys acknowledged that their clients had made mistakes. But they contended the pastors were not guilty of committing tax crimes.
Anthony Jinwright's lawyer, Ed Hinson, told jurors that prosecutors must prove his client had criminal intent.
"They have to prove that in his heart he intended to defraud," Hinson said. "We don't think they can prove that. ... They have to prove he knew what he was doing and set about to break the law. Making a mistake is not a crime."
The jurors deliberated less than four hours before convicting the Jinwrights.
The sentencing phase will continue Thursday morning at 8:30.