Evangelist said he ‘beat the system’
A Florida attorney testified Friday that Pensacola evangelist Kent Hovind disputed the government’s right to tax him and likened his ministry’s powers to that of a foreign embassy.
“He tried to stress to me that he was like the pope and this was like the Vatican,” Seminole attorney David Charles Gibbs testified at Hovind’s trial before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers.
Hovind faces 58 federal charges, including failing to pay $473,818 in employee-related taxes and making threats against investigators. Hovind, a creationist who owns Dinosaur Adventure Land on North Palafox Street in Pensacola, is the founder of Christian Science Ministries.
Gibbs, an attorney with the Gibbs Law Firm in a suburb of St. Petersburg, also is affiliated with the Christian Law Association, a nonprofit organization founded by his father that offers free legal help to churches nationwide.
Gibbs has done work for Marcus Pointe Baptist Church and was a guest speaker at the church on Oct. 17, 2004, a day he said he remembers well because it was his daughter’s 10th birthday.
After church, Gibbs and his daughter, along with other church members, were invited to Hovind’s home for pizza and soda.
Gibbs testified he and Hovind spent several hours together watching their daughters play in the Dinosaur Adventure Land park owned by Hovind.
Gibbs said Hovind tried to persuade him 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 said Hovind also told him he preferred to deal in cash and that when you are “dealing with cash there is not way to trace it, so it wasn’t taxable.”
Hovind and his wife, Jo, a co-defendant in the trial, also are charged with 44 counts of evading bank-reporting requirements by making frequent withdrawals just below the $10,000 threshold for reporting cash transactions to the IRS.
Testimony of Special IRS Agent Scott Schneider took up the remainder of the day and is expected to resume Monday.
Schneider said his investigation revealed that Hovind “hadn’t filed tax returns ever, to my knowledge.”
The government contends that Hovind paid his employees in cash and labeled them missionaries to avoid paying payroll and FICA taxes. Most of Schneider’s testimony was centered on documents seized during a 2004 raid of Hovind’s property that indicated he ran his ministry like a business.
U.S. Assistant Attorney Michelle Heldmyer presented evidence that showed Hovind and his wife kept meticulous payroll records and required workers to punch a time clock like many business employees.
Evidence presented included employee applications, vacation schedules and memos chiding staff for showing up late to work.
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.
The prosecution hopes to rest its case Tuesday. The defense is expected to take at a week or more to make its case.