CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A federal jury has found Charlotte pastors Anthony and Harriet Jinwright guilty on numerous charges in their four-week trial on fraud and tax evasion charges.
Anthony Jinwright was found guilty on 17 of 18 counts. His wife was found guilty on four of 13 charges. The couple co-pastors the Greater Salem City of God church in Charlotte.
The jury reached its verdict in just over four hours of deliberations Monday night. Its decision was met by anguished cries from Jinwright's supporters in the federal courtroom. Federal prosecutors and defense lawyers spent much of the day offering closing arguments to the jury, which adjourned at 4:10 p.m. to begin deliberations.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Brown told jurors that the Jinwrights, who co-pastor the Greater Salem City of God Church, consistently underreported their income on their tax returns.
"This case is not about religion...," Brown said. "There’s been no attack on their religious practice, and there’s been absolutely no criticism of Greater Salem Church...They are not being prosecuted because they are ministers. But being a minister is not an excuse or an exemption from complying with the laws of this country."
Prosecutors accuse the Jinwrights of failing to report $1.8 million of more than $5 million in income from 2002 to 2007. They allege that the Jinwrights used the money to fund their lavish lifestyle of fancy cars, homes and trips, even as their west Charlotte church struggled financially.
But Anthony Jinwright's lawyer Ed Hinson told jurors this afternoon that the government is attempting to punish his client for following church tradition of accepting "love offerings" and similar financial gifts. Any errors on the Jinwright's tax returns, Hinson said, were innocent mistakes -- not crimes.
"The kingdom of God is not run on generally accepted accounting principals," Hinson said during closing arguments. "Thank God. If it were, we'd all be in trouble. Neither Bishop (Jinwright) nor the church got these technical things right…(but) that does not make him a criminal."
Anthony Jinwright, who endured about 11 hours of cross-examination last week, testified during the trial that he didn’t understand he’d been underreporting income.
He said he trusted his financial advisors to get his taxes done correctly, and promised to pay his fair share in the future. Earlier, under questioning from his own lawyer, Ed Hinson, he testified that he’d been so busy traveling across the state and nation preaching the Gospel that he’d neglected his personal finances and those of his church.
Prosecutor Brown, however, repeatedly asked Jinwright to explain why his proclamations of innocence didn’t square with inconsistencies in his own financial documents. He also sought Jinwright’s explanation for testimony of former church members and financial advisors who said they tried to warn Jinwright that he should be reporting money from pastor anniversary collections, speaking engagements and other forms of "love offerings" or "seed offerings."
Harriet Jinwright did not take the stand.
Lawyers in the case said that at the heart of this case was whether the jury believed that the Jinwrights’ tax returns reflected innocent mistakes or willful misrepresentations.