Jinwrights to spend years behind bars

by Andrew Batten

Bishop Anthony Jinwright and wife Harriet Jinwright

CHARLOTTE – Bishop Anthony Jinwright, former leader at Charlotte’s Greater Salem church, and his wife, Harriett Jinwright, co-pastor at the church, will  spend years in prison for cheating the government out of millions of dollars in taxes.

The Jinwrights led the nondenominational Greater Salem City of God on Salem Church Road, off Brookshire Boulevard in Charlotte and the Greater Salem City of God at the Lake, at 1760 Old Statesville Road, Cornelius.

U.S. District Judge Frank D. Whitney sentenced 54-year-old Anthony Jinwright on Dec. 8 to eight years and four months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

Whitney sentenced Harriett Jinwright, 51, to a little more than 6 years and 6 months in federal prison, also to be followed by three years of supervised release. The Jinwrights will serve their sentences without the possibility of parole.

Whitney also ordered the couple to pay more than $1 million to the federal and state governments.

Anthony Jinwright remains in local federal custody, where he has been held since his conviction in May, until the Federal Bureau of Prisons designates where he will serve his sentence.

Harriett Jinwright remains free on bond until she is required to report to prison in April, 2011.

The sentence followed two days of emotional testimony in a cramped federal courtroom in uptown Charlotte. So many came to support their former ministers that an overflow courtroom was opened so they could view the proceedings via television screens.

The first character witness who took the stand was former N.C. Sen. Robert Pittenger, who met Anthony Jinwright in the 1980s.

“He was real committed to the ministry and training young men to go out and preach the Gospel,” Pittenger said.

But under cross-examination by U.S. Attorney David Brown, Pittenger said he thought tax evasion was not only illegal but also morally wrong.

“Yes, I believe it is,” he said.

Other character witnesses described their time worshiping at Greater Salem and what the two ministers had done for their lives.

“My life was saved by this church,” Maurice Rogers said. “It was the words coming out of that man’s mouth.”

The sentence brought to an end the three-year federal investigation into allegations of tax evasion, tax perjury and mail fraud in connection with the Jinwrights’ failure to report income from the Greater Salem church, AL Jinwright Funeral Services in Charlotte, AL Jinwright Ministries and speaking engagements at other churches.

Last year, a federal grand jury indicted the couple on six counts of tax evasion and filing false tax returns for 2002 through 2007. Anthony Jinwright also was charged with lying to federal agents and five counts of mail fraud.

The indictment accused the Jinwrights of vastly under-reporting their income during those years while enjoying a luxurious lifestyle, including numerous expensive automobiles.

Following a four-week trial in April and May, the jury deliberated for four hours before convicting Anthony Jinwright on one count of conspiracy, six counts of tax evasion and six counts of filing a false tax return. Harriett Jinwright was convicted on one count of conspiracy to defraud and three counts of tax evasion.

Love gifts

At trial the Jinwrights’ attorneys said the couple worked for the church and just like most Americans, they got a form stating their income. They depended on the church staff and their tax preparers to abide by the law.

Although the church paid the bishop a regular salary, Greater Salem also cut checks directly to the bishop and his wife for: vehicle and housing allowances, retirement income, “tax liabilities,” personal vacation and travel,  their daughter’s college tuition and at least two types of bonuses – a bonus at Christmas and a “pastoral anniversary” every February.

Both the Jinwrights also collected separate fees for speaking at other churches around the country.

The Jinwrights contended that those checks were not payments but “love offerings” given by church members as a gesture of thanks.

But federal prosecutors presented evidence that the couple knew they should be reporting all that outside income. Two outside auditing firms hired by the church told its board of directors the Jinwrights should report all their income, starting in 2001 and multiple times from 2001 to 2005.

Future of Greater Salem

With the Jinwrights preparing to serve years in prison, the future of the church they once led is unclear.

The church filed for bankruptcy in November, just in time to stop foreclosure auction on its two locations as well as a vacant 50-acre parcel on Rozzelles Ferry Road.

Charlotte-based Evangelical Christian Credit Union, which issued the $5 million note, bid $5.1 million at a November foreclosure auction. But the church’s bankruptcy forestalled the sale.

“Although our bid was accepted at auction, the sale did not go through,” Jac La Tour, the credit union’s spokesman, said. “We’ll have to see what the results of the bankruptcy filling are but if we were to purchase the properties would quickly put them back on the market possibly for another minister to purchase.”

According to foreclosure documents, the church had not made a payment on its loan since September 2009, the same month the Jinwrights were indicted.

It was no secret the Jinwrights loved luxury. From 2001 until 2007, they leased 18 cars – including a Bentley, a Rolls Royce Phantom, a Maybach, two BMWs and several Lexus SUVs. They also paid $21,000 a month to lease a multi-million-dollar home on Lake Norman that belongs to NFL great Reggie White’s widow. The Jinwrights also own a home in Cornelius at 17511 Jetton Road on Lake Norman. According to property records, they bought the house in 1998 and it is currently assessed at $998,000.

Meanwhile, the church’s finances were in ruins. At one point, Anthony Jinwright wrote a personal check to prevent the church’s vans from being repossessed – a payment he demanded the church reimburse. In 2006, witnesses testified, the church obtained a line of credit so Anthony Jinwright could receive a $50,000 pay raise.

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