I took my children to Kent Hovind's sentencing trial today. In shackels and a green jumpsuit, Kent quipped, "I chose green today ... to match my lawyer." It was so good to see him smiling and laughing.
Casey Rodgers, allegedly the youngest US judge, and one who represented local strip clubs pro bono while still working to pass the bar, was clearly not enthused about the profusion of Christianity in her courtroom. Although Kent was previously found guilty of 58 tax fraud-related charges, today's hearing included character witnesses, recorded phone calls from the prison, and Kent's own "hear my heart" speech. While I realize that we were not present for the initial trial, and we did not hear all the evidence presented on both sides, I will report what I did hear today.
The trial began with the judge deciding that Jo Hovind's original trial was incomplete and asked counsel to go back and look at two more issues. Her sentencing will now take place March 1.
Scott Schneider, an IRS special agent, took about 90 hours worth of recently recorded phone calls and played back 31 minutes of those calls. It was his purpose, he said, to show that Kent Hovind was hiding assets and making additional legal threats while he was in prison.
"Incriminating" Phone Calls
As we listened to the phone calls, I heard Kent ask about the motorhome, which later turned out to be a gift someone had given the ministry and needed some electrical work. Kent thought it needed to be parked elsewhere, which Schneider interpreted to mean that he was hiding his assets. Kent also said that if Schneider had not taken all the church funds and ministry materials, he recommended that they keep them safe. Since this was supposed to be a personal trial for Kent Hovind, and not for his ministry, I wondered why keeping the church funds safe was considered "hiding assets."
"If I get out [of prison]," Kent told his wife on the phone, "I'm going to leave [the judge, the prosecutor, and the IRS special agent] alone. If I don't get out, I'm going to sue them. I don't really want to fight them, but Schneider needs to obey the law. I'm not ready to roll over; this is America. I just want everybody to obey the law. I'll hold him harmless if he will just drop the case. I just want to be a Nehemiah and build the wall."
I am NOT a Tax Protester
"The tax laws are written just fine," Kent insisted. "The government just doesn't obey them." According to Kent, the W-2 is a voluntary tax withholding agreement, which his ministry declined to use. He claims he does not have employees, per se, but independent contractors, which, in a ministry, are exempt from being required to file a W-2 at their place of employment.
"What Have I Done Wrong?"
The rule of law is the constitution, and Kent does not see what law he has violated. Over and over again, throughout all the testimony today and throughout hundreds of pages of documents, Kent continually asked, "What have I done wrong? How can I repent if I don't know the specific charges? What law have I broken? Show me the code and we'll pay it. We have a responsibility to God to obey the law. Please show me which specific law we are violating; so far all I've seen are vague generalities."
A Man of Conviction and Honor
The first character witness for Kent was his son, Eric, who stressed Kent Hovind's consistency in all of life - truth. Standing on the truth of God's Word is so important to Kent that he will always stick with it, win or lose. Eric also gave many examples of how Kent was unbelievably in love with God, how he loved his country, and how he loved others, especially the unloveable, because of God's own love toward him. Calling Kent his hero, Eric praised him for being an "awesome" dad and grandpa to five grandchildren, one of which was born just 10 days ago and Kent has not yet seen. He told about Kent's vow of poverty that he took in 1989, not owning anything personally, but even having seven different offices in the parsonage in which he lives with his wife. Giving away so much of their material, Kent did not even bother to copyright it so that it would be available to more people. Kent's number one goal, Eric explained, is to love God.
John Dustin told of his long-term relationship with Kent, a man of honor and conviction. He explained that Kent's convictions were so deep that his personality sometimes seemed abrasive in getting those convictions across.
Pastor Greg Dickson, 74, said, "A good name is to be honored more than choice silver." He noted that in the 31 minutes of phone calls we listened to in court, it was remarkable how a convict had seemingly no malice toward those who prosecuted him, no filthy or vile language, no bitterness whatsoever.
Paul Abramson, a contractor for CSE, said that incarcerating Kent Hovind would be detrimental to society as a whole; Kent Hovind's voice in the creation movement was so needed.
The Lion and the Mouse
When it came time for Kent to give a speech about where his heart was, he began with one of Aesop's fables about a lion and the mouse, in which the mouse begs the lion not to harm him by promising to help the lion later when he might be in need. "I feel like the mouse," Kent sobbed.
Although he has led 15 men to Christ in the last three months, Kent clearly and desperately wanted out of jail. "I would have obeyed if only I'd known (what I was doing wrong) before the arrest."
He couldn't understand a justice system that wouldn't allow all the parties to just sit down and talk. He was sure that they could have come to a mutally agreeable conclusion if he would have just been able to sit down with the prosecutor and the IRS agent.
Apologizing for not making peace with Scott Schneider, Kent told of how he asked Scott to leave the property when he came to take pictures for the court. Kent was very sorry that in all the years of his welcoming thousands of people to his ministry's property that he had actually told Scott to leave. He also apologized for his pride and his frustration at the seeming lack of due process.
Relating some of the history of both his ministry and the current charges, Kent presented volumes of letters he had written both to professionals to ask for advice, and to those prosecuting him to ask for help, all during the last several years. It was especially noteworthy to me that his letters to the prosecuting attorney and to the IRS special agent all went unanswered and his frustration mounted at not being able to know just what he had done wrong.
Ordained in 1974, Kent claims that his understanding of the law is that ordained ministers are exempt from paying withholding taxes and that churches and ministries, both of which applied to his situation are also exempt from paying the withholding taxes on behalf of their employees, which are actually independent contractors, or more commonly known to Christians as missionaries. Kent claimed that both Wycliffe Bible Translators and Rick Warren's Saddleback Church use the same method of not withholding income taxes from their independent contractors (employees). Kent encouraged his employees to pay their own taxes.
Accused of structuring, Kent claimed that based upon the advice of Glen Stoll, who now controls Creation Science Evangelism, he did not take out more than $10,000 cash from the bank at any one time, using the cash to pay his missionaries who preferred cash and to pay for the expenses of the ministry. Sometimes there would be three days in between large withdrawals, while other times there would be up to 34 days in between. Not only did the discrepancy in dates indicate no structuring, but structuring is based upon violations of drug-trafficking laws, in which Kent and Jo were clearly not involved either.
Regarding the charge of destroying documents, Kent claimed that he used a shredder to destroy customer's credit card receipt copies. He kept insisting that he never knowingly or willfully violated any law.
Tears of Humility
In tears during this whole testimony, Kent then says that the only thing he's changed his mind about is that if he goes back to prison, he will not sue the IRS. "I feel like the mouse. What can I do?"
"When you wrestle with a skunk, you can win, but it gets awful messy."
When asked if he's repentant, he again asks, "What have I done wrong?" He admits, "I am guilty of being proud and frustrated. I am willing to make any changes necessary (in my finances)."
Always the preacher, Kent openly shares the gospel in court and ends with prayer, begging God to help him to understand all this.
The prosecutor closed by saying that Kent's testimony wasn't really heartfelt, it was all just subterfuge for the appeal he knew he would be making later on.
Refusing to accept responsibility for those 58 charges of which he was previously found guilty, Kent continues to ask, "What have I done wrong? What specific law have I broken? How can I change if I don't know what it is that I am doing?"
For Judge Rodgers closing remarks before sentencing, she stated that this case is not about religion. Kent brought religion into it, but she said that the law states that churches are not exempt from withholding taxes. I did find it noteworthy that she freely quoted each specific law and its regulation number when she spoke of many other details regarding sentencing, but she did not give any specifics regarding which law this particular one might be.
Although Kent repeatedly stated that he was not a tax protester, the judge insisted that the evidence was to the contrary, being especially persuaded by the fact that Kent had given control of his ministry to Glen Stoll of Remedies at Law, apparently someone toward whom judges in tax fraud cases have very little charity.
She also went to great lengths extolling the virtues of our great country and how unique it is in our freedoms and rights, but that those can only be paid for by our taxes. "You have dishonored the constitution," she rebukes Kent.
For the implied legal threats and hiding assets, for his personal attacks against Scott Schneider (?), for his refusal to accept responsibility, and because he gave his ministry over to Glen Stoll who is also in trouble with the law, Judge Rodgers decided to all but max his sentence: 10 years in prison. (The maximum amount is 10 years, one month.) He was fined to pay restitution of $604,874.87, a $2000 fine, $5800 in special monetary assessment costs, and $7078.24 in prosecution costs, payable at a monthly pro-rated amount of approximately $1000 per month beginning three months after his three-year probation begins upon completion of his time served. Based upon his low risk factor for taking drugs, the judge waived the mandatory drug testing for Kent Hovind. So kind of her.
God is Still Sovereign
Although we were crushed by the outcome, we were glad we came. The courtroom was packed. They brought in extra chairs and Alicia even had to sit on my lap. It was interesting to watch the different strengths and weaknesses among the family members. Everyone responded according to their different personalities. This was a time when one's trust in a Sovereign Lord became apparent for all the world to see. I spent much of the day in prayer, but with a judge that seemed so hard and cold, I wondered what good my prayers did. This is a time when I know that I have to believe that all things work together for good for those who love God - and I know Kent Hovind loves the Lord. May He show him some mercy in this case.