Jo Hovind, the wife of creationist theme-park owner Kent Hovind, stood solemnly beside her attorney as U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers sentenced her to one year and one day in federal prison for evading bank-reporting requirements.
Jo Hovind, 51, also was ordered Friday morning to pay $8,000 in fines and spend three years on supervision when she is released from federal prison.
Hovind was found guilty in November on 45 counts of evading bank-reporting requirements. The same jury found her husband guilty on 58 federal counts, including failure to pay $845,000 in employee-related taxes. He was sentenced in January to 10 years in federal prison.
Rodgers also ordered the forfeiture of the Hovinds’ properties, including the property where Dinosaur Adventure Land, a theme park, is located: 5800 N. Palafox St. in Pensacola.
Jo Hovind remains free on her own recognizance and is expected to begin serving her prison sentence on Aug. 31.
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Outside the federal courthouse in downtown Pensacola, her attorney, Jerry Barringer, said after the sentencing that he plans to appeal the conviction and the sentence.
“We believe that there is a just basis for wanting to appeal both issues,” said Barringer, an Illinois-based attorney.
During the trial, Internal Revenue Service investigators testified that Kent Hovind never paid taxes because he believed that he and his employees worked for God, were paid by God and weren’t subject to taxation. Prosecutors also presented evidence that the Hovinds routinely withdrew $9,500 and $9,600 from their bank, below the $10,000 threshold that requires reporting cash transactions to the IRS.
“We found that Jo Hovind paid her employees in cash to avoid creating a record and to ensure that their big transactions weren’t traceable,” federal prosecutor Michelle Heldmyer said Friday.
Before she was sentenced, Jo Hovind told the court she never set out to deceive the government.
“I don’t understand how I could purposefully evade something that I didn’t know about,” Hovind told the judge. “It’s not my character or nature to hide anything.”
She later wiped away tears as several of her supporters told the judge that, if she committed any crime, it was obeying her husband.
“What is real justice for Jo Hovind, who is a loving wife who was told what to do?” said Hovind’s son, Eric.
“This is a loving woman who was caught in the middle of all of this,” said Eric Hovind, the middle of the Hovinds’ three children. “Our hearts were not to deceive or manipulate the system; our hearts were meant to do the right thing.”
Teresa Schneider has known Jo Hovind since 1997, when her daughter married another of the Hovinds’ sons. In an emotional plea for leniency, she described Jo Hovind as a “wonderful example of a wife and mother. One who is willing to give you the shirt off her back.”
But the judge was not persuaded, even though she acknowledged that Jo Hovind is a Christian woman with strong faith.
“This case never was about religion, rather a violation of criminal law,” Rodgers said. “No one can violate the law and then say that they were doing so for the will of God.”
Victor Lessoff, the IRS’ special agent in charge at the Tampa field office, applauded the sentencing.
“The illegal structuring of the withdrawals of cash in order to pay employees and evade the payment of employment taxes is a crime,” Lessoff said in a written statement Friday afternoon.
Lessoff added that his agency and the U.S. attorney’s office will “aggressively prosecute these individuals to the full extent of the law.”
Kent Hovind owned and operated Creation Science Evangelism and the theme park, which centers around his arguments and explanations of the flaws in evolutionary theory.
Dubbed “Dr. Dino,” Hovind, a native of East Peoria, Ill., has said that by using science, he proved humans and dinosaurs lived side-by-side, and that the Earth was created by God 6,000 years ago in six days.