District Judge Danny Reeves pronounced sentence on False Prophet Ronald Weinland this morning:
- A sentence of 42 months, Ron to self report to prison on January 2.
- Followed by 3 years of supervised release
- A fine of $7,500
- Restitution in the amount of the criminal tax loss, approximately $245,000
I started off the day by having breakfast with one of the trial jurors. Then I went down to the federal court building in Covington. I arrived just after Ron did, and there was a photographer near the courthouse door who did not take my picture. I was surprised that a number of PKG members were in attendance, including:
Chris Little, Audra’s husband
Ron’s full legal defense team was present: Bob Webb and John Cline at the table flanking Ron in the center. Jon Coffman was behind the defense table with a couple of other people. On the government side was Robert McBride and Chris Nasson, and behind them was the case agent, Special Agent Palmisano. McBride and Webb were the only attorneys who spoke.
The first part of the hearing discussed the tax loss calculation of $245K. The defense attempted to reduce that below $200K which would reduce the sentence by 6-8 months. One part of that was $95K of Laura’s travel expenses which the defense argued should be deductible. The prosecution countered that this would require a trip by trip analysis to see whether Laura’s contribution was substantial, and then they would subject all of Ron’s travels to the same scrutiny which could result in an increase in the loss calculations.
The other part was the $290K deposited in the Swiss bank accounts, which the defense alleged was being held in trust for the church. The prosecution pointed out that the expenses were being held for the Two Witnesses to use in the end times for lodging, travel, etc.
After that discussion, the tax loss calculation of $245,176 held.
Next was discussed the two-level enhancement for Sophisticated Means. The defense argued that the Swiss bank accounts were not sophisticated as fund were wire transferred, and Ron did not keep two sets of books. The prosecution argued that Ron over a long period of time structured his church so that he had sole legal control as the only board member of the corporation and sole spiritual control in his position directly below God and Jesus and being their spokesman. Ron set up multiple church bank accounts and multiple personal bank accounts and multiple credit cards. With his legal and spiritual control total and without government oversight of church activities there was no one to put the brakes on his activities. When the defense pointed out that most transactions were legitimate church expenses, the judge likened his tax evasion to hiding a needle in a haystack, further indication of sophisticated means. That two-level enhancement remained.
Next was discussed a two-level enhancement for Aggravate Role as the leader of a criminal organization. The government corrected the defenses statement that it was meant to apply to the church, rather it was meant to apply to the Weinland family. The judge responded that he regarded Ron and Laura as equal participants in the scheme and Audra as not having criminal intent. So there was no enhancement for this.
The last enhancement was two levels for obstruction. This remained, as the judge said that Ron perjured himself about material matters during his testimony when:
- He stated that he did not intend to file false tax returns
- When he claimed the church funds directly paying for Jeremy’s education were a church scholarship program.
So the recalculated sentence guidelines were
- 18 levels for $245K of tax loss
- +2 levels for Sophisticated Means
- +2 levels for Obstruction
Level 22, for 41 to 51 months in prison and a fine of $7500 to $75,000.
Next discussed was the defense motion for a downward variance. Will add more about that later.
McBride stated that the government did not question the sincerity or validity of the religious beliefs of the rank and file PKG members who wrote letters on Ron’s behalf. But Ron exploited them with complete control and with his financial activity invisible except for the false W-2s filed. The members would not question Ron.
He cited the letter on page 153 of the filing I provided in a previous posting. The woman who was given $1000 for medical expenses and later $2000 for other reasons was not given Ron’s money — it was the church’s money. Ron used the doctrine of tithing to extract money from members and taught that once given to God the member had no responsibility.
Since Ron only answered to God and Jesus, he could have taken any amount as salary and the government would have gone along with that had he just paid his taxes.
Webb pointed out that Ron did not have a double set of books and that all his transactions were through bank accounts rather than some money laundering scheme. Otherwise Ron was law abiding for 63 years and helped people escape from drug and alcohol and their personal relationships.
On the advice of counsel, Ron declined the opportunity to address the court. Smart advice and Ron was wise to follow it.
The judge imposed the sentence. His goal was to promote respect for the law and protect the public from Ron’s further criminal actions, but the victim (legally) was the IRS and not the members.
Another goal was to avoid disparities in sentencing. To vary the sentence downward from the guidelines for Ron because it was a white collar crime would be a disparity. The judge was not impressed by the statistics cited by the defense stating that each case had to be considered individually. The sentence in one of the cases cited by the defense was the result of a binding plea agreement — the defendant plead guilty which Ron did not do.
With the structure Ron set up there was no need for a double set of books. So Judge Reeves denied the defense motion for downward variance.
The judge did not believe that Ron’s behavior was an unintended mistake. Referring to the 169 letters, he indicated that they influenced him to impose the 42-month sentence at the bottom end of the 41-51 month range of the sentencing guidelines. It seems that by imposing restitution of the $245176 amount, he shut the door on the IRS going after Ron on a civil basis for those years. The fine imposed of $7500 is also at the low end of the sentencing guidelines. There is an additional assessment of $500 for the guilty verdict.
The hearing lasted just under two hours. After the hearing, I met another of the jurors for a lunch and nice visit. The jurors are regular guys, and astonished by Ron’s behavior. One commented that after seeing the court evidence of where Ron did his shopping, they were inclined to patronize other stores. After lunch was more Ron-related activity which produced fruits I’ll blog later. At the end of a long day which included driving to my next activity which is not Ron-related, I wrote this post and am finishing it up now having awakened earlier than I wanted to.
The judge did one thing I hoped he wouldn’t: giving Ron a 42-month sentence which he’ll be able to spin as prophetically significant. On the other hand, I much prefer 42 months to a sentence in the 12-24 month range.
The judge ordered Ron to self-report to prison on January 2 and recommends to the Bureau of Prisons that he be incarcerated nearby. Ron now has 7 more sabbaths to line up his ducks. If Ron is assigned to Ashland nearby, Laura will be making mid-week visits to get the sermon topics for Johnny, Terry, or Wayne for the next sermon.
But it won’t be the same. I expect that when Ron finishes his sentence, that his church will have diminished to a smaller group of stalwarts like the group that attended yesterday’s court session.