A federal judge sentenced Charlotte pastors Anthony and Harriet Jinwright to prison late Thursday, after the couple who led Greater Salem church pleaded for leniency in their punishment for tax evasion.
Anthony Jinwright got eight years and nine months in prison, while Harriet Jinwright received six years and eight months. The couple must also pay the Internal Revenue Service more than $1million, plus $213,666 to the state. U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney acknowledged the couple had been generous and loving spiritual leaders, often paying tuitions, light bills and rent for hurting people.
“What’s troubling,” he said, “is what I will call the Robin Hood defense. It’s very easy to give away other people’s money.”
Whitney noted that he felt a sense of remorse from Harriet Jinwright, but not her husband.
“Bishop Jinwright is the definition of ‘good people can do bad things,'” he said.
The sentencing, which came about 10 p.m., capped a proceeding that ran more than 20 hours over two days as prosecutors and defense lawyers argued over how much time the pair should spend in prison.
In seeking mercy, Anthony Jinwright, 54, told the judge he wanted to go around the country to advise pastors to hire good financial advisers and comply with tax laws. His wife’s plea drew sniffles and quiet crying from supporters in the courtroom.
“I ask for your forgiveness and your mercy,” Harriet Jinwright, 51, told the judge.
Her lawyer explained that Harriet Jinwright is scheduled for surgery in January and would need months of recuperation. Judge Whitney gave her some time, ordering her to report to prison in April.
Anthony Jinwright was led away in shackles, and might serve his time at the Butner federal prison in North Carolina.
Friends and congregants of the Greater Salem Church have flocked to Charlotte’s federal courthouse to support the Jinwrights, who were convicted in May of tax evasion.
A prosecutor on Thursday called the couple “tax cheats,” while Anthony Jinwright’s attorney cast his client as unsophisticated and careless about money matters.
“People can be wrong about their taxes,” attorney Ed Hinson told the judge. “Maybe he was reckless not to concern himself with (financial) details. For a preacher, that really isn’t in the front of his mind.”
But Assistant U.S. Attorney David Brown emphasized that a jury – after a four-week trial – decided the Jinwrights were guilty of tax evasion.
“They wanted to enrich themselves at the expense of the United States government,” Brown told the judge. “What we have, your honor, are 18-year tax cheats.”
Judge Whitney ruled Thursday the total tax loss attributed to the Jinwrights exceeded $1million. He also weighed whether other actions by the Jinwrights should increase their prison time.
He considered, for example, whether Anthony Jinwright abused a position of trust and whether he tried to obscure his actions.
At trial earlier this year, prosecutors described the couple’s lavish lifestyle of luxury cars and expensive trips, while the church they led struggled to pay its bills.
Greater Salem has since filed for bankruptcy protection, and its properties were auctioned off in foreclosure.
The sentencing hearing included lengthy testimony on how much in taxes the Jinwrights failed to pay, as well as a parade of character witnesses, who vouched, sometimes emotionally, for the pastors.
Witnesses included former N.C. Sen. Robert Pittenger, a young pastor mentored by Anthony Jinwright who came all the way from South Africa to testify, and a long-time church member who said Anthony Jinwright paid for her son’s education.
Anthony Jinwright, was convicted on 13 of 18 charges, including conspiracy and multiple counts of filing false tax returns and tax evasion. He was acquitted on five counts of mail fraud.
Harriet Jinwright, was found guilty on four of 13 charges, including conspiracy and tax evasion. She was acquitted on three counts of tax evasion and six counts of filing false tax returns.
Prosecutors accused the pastors of failing to report more than $2.3 million in taxable income from 2002 to 2007.
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 previously 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.
An overflow crowd of supporters watched the proceedings via closed-circuit video in a second courtroom.
“They’re my pastors, and I believe in them,” church member Raymond Moore said. “They’re not criminals.”
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