Two people who worked for a Pensacola evangelist testified Wednesday in federal court that they didn’t consider where they worked to be a church.
Evangelist Kent “Dr. Dino” Hovind is accused of failing to pay $473,818 in federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes for employees of his Creation Science Ministry between March 31, 2001, and Jan. 31, 2004.
Hovind has claimed he didn’t have to pay the taxes because his employees were “volunteers,” “missionaries” or “ministers” and his business was a ministry.
His wife, Jo Hovind, also is on trial, accused of contributing to the fraud by making 45 bank transactions in a little more than a year in an effort to make the money untraceable.
Hovind owns Dinosaur Adventure Land on North Palafox Street, a creationist theme park dedicated to debunking evolution.
The trial is being heard by U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers and is expected to take at least two weeks to complete.
Alan Richey is Kent Hovind’s defense attorney, and Michelle Heldmyer is the prosecutor. They used government documents, letters and recorded phone conversations on Wednesday to question four witnesses.
Brian Popp, Hovind’s employee for at least eight years, testified that he preferred to be paid in cash and that Hovind said that was the preference of the other employees.
“He said if it was up to him, he’d prefer to pay us all with checks,” Popp said.
Popp said Hovind told him about the bank’s requirement to report transactions over $10,000 and said it was “not safe to carry large sums of cash.”
He also testified employees had a certain “paranoia” about Hovind’s run-ins with the IRS, although workers were under the impression Hovind was “on the offensive rather than the defensive.”
Popp testified that Hovind warned employees not to accept mail addressed to “KENT HOVIND.” He said Hovind told the workers the government created a corporation in his “all-caps name.” Hovind said if he accepted the mail, he would be accepting the responsibilities associated with that corporation, Popp testified.
Heldmyer asked Popp to read from ministry memos that referred to the workers as “employees” and included rules about timeliness, payroll, vacation days and salaries.
Richey pointed out the ministerial aspects of the memo, including references to Scripture and “helping to promote Christ.”
Popp said the memos didn’t always paint a clear picture of the inner workings of the ministry.
“There was sometimes a difference between memos and how we’d actually operate,” he said.
Although Popp considered himself a minister at the time of his employment, he said Hovind’s ministry isn’t a church.
“It wasn’t what I had become accustomed to be a church,” he said.
Diane P. Cooksey, who was a sales representative for the ministry from January 2003 to June 2005, testified she was expected to pay her own taxes.
“He explained what his belief was, right up front in the interview, that I would pay my own taxes,” she testified.
She received her hourly wage of $10 in a weekly paycheck, she punched a time clock, had 10 paid vacation days and considered herself an employee, not a missionary as a few others called themselves, she said.
Cooksey testified she never received a W-2 or 1099 tax form for the money she made.
“I didn’t see it as a church, personally,” she said, adding that on occasion, materials were given for free to missionaries and prisons.
After the Dinosaur Adventure Land was raided on April 2004, Kent Hovind required his employees to sign nondisclosure agreements if they wanted to keep their jobs, she said.
“I was uncomfortable signing it, I guess, because of not having a full understanding,” Cooksey said.
M.C. Powe, an IRS officer who investigates people who have unpaid tax returns or unpaid tax liabilities, testified she first attempted to collect taxes from the Hovinds in 1996.
Kent Hovind was not home at the time, so she gave his wife a summons and taxpayer rights brochure.
Powe said she then received a letter from Hovind that stated: “… this summons indicates that you assume I am a ‘taxpayer’ per the IRS code.”
Hovind denied in the letter that he was a tax protester, saying instead he was a steward over the property of the Lord, she testified.
Powe said Hovind never showed up at the appointed time and she returned to the home. When she learned Kent Hovind wasn’t home again, she informed Jo Hovind that their vehicles would be seized.
“Because he traveled around a lot, I thought he would move his assets beyond our reach,” she said.
Hovind tried several bullying tactics against her, Powe testified. A recording that Hovind made of a phone conversation was then played. In the phone conversation, Hovind tried to make an appointment with Powe by 10 a.m. that day. When Powe said she couldn’t meet him because she had a staff meeting, Hovind threatened to sue her, which he did.
“Dr. Hovind sued me three times, maybe more,” Powe testified. “It just seemed to be something he did often.”
She testified that the cases were dismissed.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Beard, who handled Hovind’s bankruptcy, filed after his vehicles were seized by the IRS, testified that Hovind opted for the Chapter 13 “wage-earner plan,” available only to those who have a regular source of income.
In his bankruptcy forms, Hovind wrote that he had no form of income, that he rejected his Social Security number and that his employer was God, Beard testified.
“That gives you a warning sign,” Beard said.
Staff writer Angela Fail contributed to this report.