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Now in his eighth year in federal prison on tax-related charges, the popular Florida-based creation-science lecturer and theme-park creator known as “Dr. Dino” hopes a U.S. Senate bill will free him, perhaps even before Christmas.
Kent Hovind, incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution at Berlin, N.H., began serving a 10-year sentence in January 2007 after he was convicted of 12 tax offenses, one count of obstructing federal agents and 45 counts of structuring cash transactions.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on a bill that would reduce the amount of time served for first-offense, nonviolent federal offenders who exhibit good behavior, cutting sentences by 33 percent instead of the current 12 percent.
Known as the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act of 2013, Senate Bill 1675 is expected to pass the Senate and the House and be signed by President Obama if it survives the Judiciary Committee.
Hovind is asking citizens to call the offices of members of the Senate panel through the Senate switchboard, (202)-224-3121, and urge them to vote for the bill. The committee is chaired by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. The ranking member is Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
Hovind is scheduled to be transferred to home confinement Feb. 11, 2015, where he would serve the final six months of his sentence. If the bill passes, however, cutting his sentence by 33 percent rather than 12 percent, he believes he would be released.
His son, Eric Hovind, who now directs a new ministry in Pensacola with the same mission of his father’s Creation Science Evangelism, contends the government completely misrepresented his parents in the trial, portraying them as anti-government radicals. His mother, Jo, the ministry’s bookkeeper, served one year in prison.
While Kent Hovind has made statements over the course of his ministry that challenge the authority of the federal government to collect income taxes, he insists he has not broken any laws.
“I’ve never been anti-tax or a tax protester,” he told WND. “I have always said that everyone should obey the law, including the government. I have always paid every tax I owe.”
Claiming the government itself violated more than 20 laws, policies and procedures, Hovind has filed a number of appeals, hoping to “get one just judge to admit the government attorneys did not follow the rules in any one of those violations the case will be overturned as if it never happened.”
He makes his case in a document on a website devoted to his legal battle.
Kent Hovind established Creation Science Evangelism in 1989 with the aim of presenting the Christian message through evidence for divine creation. In 2001, he opened a theme park behind his home called Dinosaur Adventure Land, which depicted humans and dinosaurs co-existing. After he went to prison Jan. 19, 2007, his son began a new ministry, which is now called Creation Today, with a focus on “creation, apologetics and evangelism.”
Dinosaur Adventure Land, however, was shut down nearly five years ago. It was among the nine properties seized by the government in a forfeiture judgment.
As WND reported in 2009, Hovind argues he took a vow of poverty as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ and, therefore, owns nothing and receives no income. All of his needs are taken care of by the ministry, he insists.
He says he understood that as a registered 508 non-profit organization, he was not required to withhold taxes, leaving IRS obligations with each worker. In November 2006, however, Hovind was convicted of failing to collect and pay $470,000 in withholding taxes, obstructing tax laws, structuring transactions totaling $430,500 to avoid financial reporting laws, filing a frivolous lawsuit against the IRS, filing an injunction against an IRS agent and threatening investigators and others who cooperated with the investigation.
The “structuring” charges are based on application of laws designed to expose money-laundering by drug traffickers, which require banks to fill out a transaction report if any customer deposits or withdraws more than $10,000 in one day.
Until 2003, his organization, Creation Science Evangelism, withdrew cash from the bank to compensate employees. The Hovinds were charged under a law that makes it illegal to evade reporting by dividing up the transactions into amounts less than $10,000 and using several banks. Each count bears a fine of $250,000 plus five years in prison. Over the years, the amount of withdrawal every week or so grew from $2,000 to about $9,500. In 2002, the practice stopped, because the Hovinds thought it was too risky to transport so much cash.
Hovind contends he abandoned any practice he discovered was legally questionable. But in the early morning hours of July 13, 2006, about 20 armed government agents arrived on ministry property without notice to arrest the Hovinds.
As WND reported in January 2012, Hovind has made numerous appeals in federal court, including claims that he was not given due process and that his case record does not contain a warrant “supported by Oath or affirmation,” as required by the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.
Hovind contends the structuring law does not apply, because he and his wife, the bookkeeper, never deposited or withdrew more than $10,000 on any one day. The argument formed the basis of his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after rejections by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. But the high court didn’t take his case.
The jury, at the prosecution’s suggestion, decided on a forfeiture judgment allowing the government to seize the properties based on the amount withdrawn from the bank in the structuring charge. But Hovind argues the government cannot get a forfeiture judgment unless the money was obtained or spent illegally.
An attorney advising Hovind, Paul J. Hansen of Omaha, Neb., contended the defense attorney at trial failed to tell the jury that Hovind was not required to file a quarterly IRS Form 941, because he did not fit the statutory requirements.
In the 2006 trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Heldmyer charged that Hovind was hiding money by not filing quarterly reports and withdrawing large sums of cash from the bank to pay employees.
Hansen argued Hovind was withdrawing money from the ministry account to pay ministry expenses and says he can prove Hovind wasn’t required to file a Form 941.
“The only time (dealing in cash) is illegal is when you’re covering up an illegal act,” Hansen said. “There is no intent there. His attorney should have been able to bring that up.”
Hovind insists he was never notified by the IRS of any illegal practices until the early morning hours of July 13, 2006, when about 20 armed government agents arrived on ministry property without notice to arrest him and his wife.
Hovind also was convicted of filing a frivolous lawsuit against the IRS, filing an injunction against an IRS agent and threatening investigators and others who cooperated with the investigation.
Hovind’s supporters acknowledge that on a radio broadcast, he did pray that God would “smite” the IRS, which was interpreted as a threat.
While Hovind contends he’s not an anti-tax protester, he has made statements that have given that impression to the IRS.
In 1996, he tried to file for bankruptcy to avoid paying federal income taxes. He told a judge at a hearing that he did not believe the U.S., the IRS and the U.S. Attorney’s Office “have jurisdiction in this matter.”
“I sincerely believe that I am not a person required to file a Federal Income Tax Return,” he said. “This belief is a result of extensive research that I have done.”
Asked by the judge where he lived, Hovind replied, “I live in the church of Jesus Christ, which is located all over the world. I have no residence.”
Hovind has stated he believes the Bible “teaches us to obey the authority over us.” But he has contended the “IRS is not the authority over me any more than the government of Japan is.”
Eric Hovind has explained to WND that his father sent numerous letters to the IRS, asking exactly which laws apply to a 508 (c) (1) (a) church ministry, but he received no response.
During the trial the special agent in charge of the investigation, Scott Schneider, was asked by the defense if he “ever sent him any copies of the law or citations to specific laws in the tax code?”
Schneider responded: “No, I did not.”
Kent Hovind’s position on taxes was reported to the IRS in the mid-1990s by an official at neighboring Pensacola Christian College, which barred students from any connection to the ministry. The college’s senior vice president, Rebekah Horton, testified in the Hovinds’ 2006 trial: “We know the Scriptures do not promote (tax evasion). It’s against Scripture teaching.”
Horton said it was the college’s duty to report Hovind, because she “didn’t want to see innocent people get led astray.”
Eric Hovind said that his “father believed that as an ordained minister, he had no obligation to file income tax returns, because he took a vow of poverty.”
He noted the ministry was set up to provide for his basic needs, and he had no income.
“He drove a ministry car, lived in a ministry house, and ate ministry food,” Eric Hovind said. “That is exactly what Catholic priests do. Anyone could stop by and see that there are no gold-plated toilets in this house.”
As an ordained minister, he said, his father “paid no taxes, because he didn’t make any money,” noting the ministry was set up to provide only for his basic needs, and he had no income.