Credit cards at center of evangelist's tax trial
COVINGTON — Internet evangelist Ronald Weinland and his wife lived a lavish lifestyle in Union off the donations of his followers from around the world, federal prosecutors said during the first day of the man’s tax evasion trial.
“Just by the credit cards alone, the evidence will show you, from 2004 to 2008, the Weinlands had over $500,000 of personal expenses paid for by the church ...,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert McBride said during opening statements on Monday. “That in and of itself isn’t really good business practice, but it isn’t inherently illegal. The crime here is mostly evading income taxes.”
McBride said Weinland failed to pay $244,000 in federal income taxes from 2004 through 2008.
“While Mr. Weinland was no tax expert, he was no tax neophyte either,” McBride said, adding that Weinland never missed a legal deduction allowed for ministers.
McBride said Weinland purchased diamonds and gold for his family with church money. Webb said those were not lavish gifts but liquid assets so his followers had something to barter with when the financial system crashed.“The Weinlands carried the diamonds and gold with them when they traveled far abroad,” Webb said, “because they believe time was going to end – that Jesus Christ would return.”
Much of the government’s case appears to be built on credit card charges. McBride said Weinland commingled personal expenses and church expenses on his personal credit cards that were paid off in full each month from church assets.
Some credit card charges were for Weinland’s wife to travel with him on mission trips. McBride alleged one of the trips was actually a vacation to Germany for Weinland to celebrate his daughter’s marriage.
McBride said Weinland even used church money to pay the utilities and mortgage on his $381,000 home in the Triple Crown subdivision. Webb said that was a legitimate business expense because the church is operated out of a one-room office of the home and that the basement was converted into a mini warehouse to fill orders from for Weinland’s books.
McBride said Weinland was even more brazen when he began paying the utilities and mortgage for the condominium of his daughter, Audra Little. Church money was also used to purchase Weinland’s son, Jeremy, a car – and then ship it to Germany where the son lived, McBride said.
Other expenses questioned by prosecutors were for a security system at Little’s home and school tuition for Jeremy.
Webb said those expenses were all perks for the work Weinland’s children did for the church. Little was the bookkeeper and Jeremy did computer work for the church.