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Jury convicts Birmingham minister in tax-fraud case

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — A federal jury has convicted the Rev. Gregory Clarke of filing false income tax returns, rejecting his “love offerings” defense.

The prominent Birmingham pastor had claimed that much of the money he received was gifts, or “love offerings,” and not compensation for services he provided.

The jury heard four days of testimony and found him guilty Friday on three counts.

U.S. District Judge Inge Johnson set sentencing for Oct. 22. The penalty for filing false income tax returns is up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000, or both.

Prosecutors said Clarke underreported $110,000 in earned income during 2000, 2001 and 2002, and schemed to deceive the government by funneling earned income into accounts. The IRS said Clarke owed $35,684 in taxes.

Members of Clarke’s congregation from the 6,000-member New Hope Baptist Church filled the courtroom during the trial.

Clarke said he was shocked by the verdict, but pledged to be in his pulpit Sunday. He said the verdict was not a setback to his ministry.

“This is a comma,” he said, “not a period.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lloyd Peeples said the message is “if you file a false income tax return, you’re breaking the law regardless of who you are.”

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Alice Martin said the guilty verdict clearly shows that the need to be truthful on tax returns applies to everyone.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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