CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The husband/wife team that led the Greater Salem Baptist Church will spend much of the next decade in prison as punishment for more than $2 million in total tax fraud.
That was the sentence issued Thursday by U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney.
Bishop Anthony Jinwright will spend 8 years, 9 months in prison. His wife, Pastor Harriet Jinwright, will spend 6 years, 8 months. Together, they'll pay the government more than $2.3 million in restitution for their evasion of taxes.
"The sentence the court is proposing is necessary to promote respect for the law," Judge Whitney told the packed courtroom.
The prosecution had argued that stiff sentences for tax evaders are necessary to remind others that paying taxes is essential.
The government said the Jinwrights had failed to report millions of dollars in income from their roles as heads at the Greater Salem Baptist Church and with A.L. Jinwright Ministries. The prosecutor said the lavish life they led -- a large home on Lake Norman, fancy cars including a Rolls Royce, and exotic vacations -- could never have been financed without defrauding the government.
At the tedious, two-day sentencing hearing, the Jinwrights defense teams argued that the omissions were mistakes by two people unaware of the law and misled by traditions of the African-American church culture.
"I wish I had known then what I know now," Harriet Jinwright told the judge. "I believe in miracles. I believe in rehabilitation. I believe in second chances. ... I commit myself to you."
Bishop Anthony Jinwright asked the judge to allow him to preach tax compliance to the pastors he knows from his 30 years of service to the African-American spiritual community.
"Your honor, I have been humbled, humiliated, disgraced, stripped of my freedom. I ask for mercy, that I may try to make amends."
"I was moved more by Pastor [Harriet] Jinwright. I did get a sense of remorse from her as to her misconduct," the judge said. "[Bishop Anthony Jinwright's] was from the change in his conditions and not that he was involved in criminal conduct."
Many members of the Jinwrights' church have stood by them. So many people packed the courtroom Thursday that many spilled into the hall. Though they refused to speak to the media, they prayed together during a court recess, cried during the Jinwrights pleas for mercy, and later shielded Harriet Jinwright from cameras as she left the courthouse.
Harriet Jinwright will be allowed to delay the serving of her sentence while she recovers from a surgery she's scheduled for January. Anthony Jinwright has been in jail for seven months. He'll report immediately.
His lawyer, Ed Hinson, said he plans to appeal. In court, he argued that the Jinwrights were being persecuted for their wealth. "I ask you not to make him a scapegoat for the sins of financial excess. This country may need that scapegoat, but he's not the right one."
"This court does know fraud," Judge Whitney countered, "and that is what this case is about."