Evangelist Kent Hovind's tax trial begins

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Evangelist Kent Hovind and his wife, Jo, are trying to convince a federal jury that their money from video and amusement park admission sales belong to God and cannot be taxed. The trial began at United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida on Tuesday October 18, 2006 after twelve jury members and two alternates were selected to decide on the 58 federal courts against Hovind and his wife. The trial was expected to take at least two weeks to complete with the prosecution hoping to rest its case Tuesday, but a defense attorney became ill and the Judge delayed the trial until October 30th.

Hovind is a Young Earth creationist who does many speaking engagements and debates. He also sells videos giving a pro-creationism perspective, which he receives income for. Hovind, who calls himself "Dr. Dino", received a Ph.D in "Christian education" from the unaccredited correspondence school Patriot Bible University in 1991.

Charges

Prosecutor Michelle Heldmeyer said from 1999 to March 2004, the Hovinds took in more than $5 million. Heldmeyer charged Hovind on 12 counts for failing to pay about $470,000 in federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes for his ministry employees between March 31, 2001, and Jan. 31, 2004. Counts 13 through 57 include Hovind's wife for making 45 transactions in a little more than a year, sometimes taking out as much as $9,500 at a time. Banks are required to report cash withdrawals that exceed $10,000.

In count 58 against Kent includes filing a frivolous lawsuit against the IRS, demanding damages for criminal trespass, filing an injunction against an IRS agent, making threats against investigators and those cooperating with the investigation, and filing false complaints against the IRS for false arrest, excessive use of force and theft.

In July with his attorney, Public Defender Kafahni Nkrumah, Hovind stated that he did not recognize the government's right to try him on tax-fraud charges.

This is not the first time Hovind has found himself in legal trouble. In 2002 he refused to get a $50.00 building permit for his Dinosaur Adventure Land, and after three years of legal battles the court ruled that he get a permit or the building would be razed. The park, which depicts dinosaurs as coexisting with humans in the last 6-4,000 years with the more recent "dinosaurs" being the Loch Ness monster, is reportedly open after Hovind paid for the permit and fines totaling $10,402.64.

Government witnesses

More directly, M.C. Powe, an IRS officer who investigates people who have unpaid tax returns or unpaid tax liabilities, testified at Hovind's current trial on October, 19, 2006 that she first attempted to collect taxes from the Hovinds in 1996. She noted Hovind tried several "bullying tactics" that included suing her at least three times. These resulted in each case being thrown out.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Beard handled Hovind's bankruptcy in 1996 testified on Wednesday that in 1996 after Hovind's vehicles were seized by the IRS, he filed under the Chapter 13 "wage-earner plan," available only to those who have a regular source of income. However, Hovind wrote that he had no form of income, that he rejected his Social Security number and that his employer was God, Beard testified.

In a 2005 affidavit, the Hovinds argue that Social Security is essentially a "Ponzi scheme." The Hovinds referred to the United States Government as "the 'bankrupt' corporate government" and said they were renouncing their United States citizenship and Social Security numbers to become "a natural citizen of 'America' and a natural sojourner."

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On Thursday an employee of AmSouth Bank explained that the Currency Transaction Reports requires the bank to report any time a cash amount of $10,000 or more is withdrawn or deposited. This employee noted that various records demonstreated Jo Hovind had made transactions up to $15,000 at a time.

Also on Thursday Hovind's former neighbor testified regarding Hovind's purchasing of her Palafox Street home. On the stand she said Hovind paid her $30,000 in cash as part of the $155,000 sale.

Hovind's employees

In this week's trial two of Hovind's workers testified in federal court that they didn't consider where they worked to be a church. In court Hovind maintains he does not have to pay the taxes because his employees were "volunteers," "missionaries" or "ministers" and his business was a ministry.

However, Brian Popp, Hovind's employee for at least eight years, said he considered himself a minister at the time of his employment, but said Hovind's ministry isn't a church. Popp also testified that Hovind knew about the bank's requirement to report transactions over $10,000 and said it was "not safe to carry large sums of cash."

Further, Popp said Hovind told his workers not to accept mail addressed to "KENT HOVIND" because Hovind told the workers the government created a corporation in his "all-caps name" and if the mail was accepted, Hovind claimed, it would be accepting the responsibilities associated with that corporation.

Diane P. Cooksey, served as a sales representative for the ministry from January 2003 to June 2005, and said Hovind expected to pay her own taxes. Cooksey said, "He explained what his belief was, right up front in the interview, that I would pay my own taxes." As told's worker, she received $10 an hour in a weekly paycheck, punched a time clock, was given 10 paid vacation days a year, and considered herself an employee, not a missionary as a few others called themselves.

The IRS raided Hovind's Dinosaur Adventure Land in April 2004, after which Hovind required his employees to sign nondisclosure agreements. "I was uncomfortable signing it, I guess, because of not having a full understanding," Cooksey said.

Pensacola Christian College

Rebekah Horton, vice president of the unaccredited Pensacola Christian College, took the stand on the second day of the trial and testified that "We know the Scriptures do not promote (tax evasion)". "It's against Scripture teaching."

Horton was given a videotape in the mid 1990s from a woman who worked for Hovind. The video contained "another evangelist advocating tax evasion," Horton explained. The woman who gave the tape to Horton claimed Hovind's philosophy as "You were giving a gift with your work, and they were giving a gift back to you."

Pensacola Christian College decided to disallow its students from working with Hovind's Creation Science Evangelism and reported Hovind's scheme to the IRS.

IRS and 'beating the system'

On Friday, attorney David Charles Gibbs testified that Hovind claimed he had no obligation to pay employee income taxes and explained with "a great deal of bravado" how he had "beat the tax system." Gibbs is an attorney with the Gibbs Law Firm, also is affiliated with the Christian Law Association, a nonprofit organization founded by his father that offers free legal help to churches nationwide in a suburb of St. Petersburg, Florida. Gibbs attended the Marcus Pointe Baptist Church when Hovind was a guest speaker at the church on October 17, 2004. Hovind invited Gibbs and others to Hovind's home for pizza and soda.

Gibbs testified they talked for many hours, and Hovind "tried to stress to me that he was like the pope and this was like the Vatican." Also Gibbs explained Hovind also told him he preferred to deal in cash because "dealing with cash there is no way to trace it, so it wasn't taxable."

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Later on Friday, Special IRS Agent Scott Schneider took up the remainder of the day and is expected to resume Monday. Schneider told the jury his investigation revealed that Hovind "hadn't filed tax returns ever, to my knowledge."

Hovind tried suing the IRS and Schneider several times to avoid providing information required by the IRS. Each filing was thrown out by the judges.

Schneider's discussed documents seized during the 2004 raid of Hovind's property. These documents, Schneider explained, indicated Hovind ran his ministry as a business with "meticulous" payroll documents and a time clock employees had to punch in and out.

In the raid cash was found "all over the place." Ultimately, $42,000 in cash was seized along with half-dozen guns (including a SKS semiautomatic) at the Hovinds' home.

The Pensacola News Journal noted that "in one memo, Jo Hovind informed her daughter, who works at the park, that her pay would be docked $10 for talking too long on the telephone when she should have been working."

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