Kent Hovind is one of the leading lights in the field of Young Earth Creationism, the notion that there is scientific evidence for a hyper-literal reading of the Book of Genesis. YEC implies that the world is roughly 6,000 years old and dinosaurs and humans must have co-existed. Nearing the end of a long sentence for tax related crimes, Hovind finds himself on trial this week for fraud and contempt of court related to filings on properties seized in connection with his first conviction. His co-defendant Paul John Hansen was the trustee of Creation Science Evangelism, Hovind's ministry. Hansen challenges the authority of the government in many areas, including the right to bring him to trial in the federal court in Pensacola.
Abigail Megginson and Ben Sheffler teamed up for this report on Day 4 of the trial.
Abigail Megginson and Ben Sheffler teamed up for this report on Day 4 of the trial.
The Kent Hovind and Paul Hansen trial resumed after a day off, and was highlighted by testimonies from Eric Hovind and multiple Internal Revenue Service agents and the man who had the misfortune to buy from the federal government one of the properties seized from Kent Hovind's ministry.
The prosecution’s attention centered around letters, phone calls and emails that included correspondence with Kent Hovind and Hansen, or mentioned Creation Science Evangelism (CSE) and its properties.
In one instance, Kent Hovind sent a letter to his daughter Marlissa and her husband Paul Dublin, who live at one of the CSE properties. The letter implied that if they testify in court, Marlissa and Paul should say, “I don’t recall,” when asked about any mail and documents received.
Several excerpts of Kent Hovind’s phone conversations, which were recorded as standard procedure for an inmate at the Santa Rosa County Jail, were introduced as evidence.
One call in particular between Kent and his son Eric Hovind on February 13 of this year started off with Eric talking about someone who had just become a Christian. Kent then began implying, through a biblical reference about the apostle Paul’s silence, that Eric should say as little as possible when he testifies in court. Eric immediately stopped him mid-sentence and told his father that the prosecution will use these conversations to slander his character.
In one phone call from Kent Hovind to an unidentified person, Kent said he was told by a Muslim cellmate, whom he described as a legal genius, to go ahead and file lis pendens.
Several email records from Google and MSN were subpoenaed in March 2012, as well as emails from the Federal Bureau of Prisons in July 2013, which concerned the lis pendens, Hansen, God Quest (parent company of Eric Hovind's Creation Today ministry), Creation Today, CSE and the properties in dispute. They were read aloud in court by IRS agent Scott Schneider. Select emails could not be retrieved by Schneider due to the Federal Bureau of Prison’s email system, but Eric Hovind had copied and pasted them and sent them to himself.
Eric Hovind said that he had never met Hansen in person, but had been corresponding with him via email. Hansen became responsible for the CSE trust and had complete legal control over the assets, while Eric had control over the brand and operation.
The prosecution pointed out that Hansen filed liens after his June 1, 2011 indictment on a conspiracy charge. Each and every document and money order was signed by Hansen with no mention of Glen Stoll, who was also part of the CSE trust.
Eric Hovind told the jury he was completely aware of the lis pendens his father was filing. He also stated that Kent Hovind thought the lawsuit he filed in South Carolina would overturn his first conviction, but a sustained objection by the prosecution stopped further comment about the previous conviction.
The prosecution made clear that Kent Hovind only filed lis pendens on the four properties the government was trying to sell, not any other properties, implying there was intent to disrupt those specific sales.
After the government seized several CSE properties to compensate for the more than $400,000 Kent Hovind owed, Eric Hovind said he and his father disputed about his buying of assets of CSE from the government for Creation Today. Some of those assets included equipment, books, CD’s, websites and promotional rights. Eric jokingly said of the dispute, “Welcome to my family.”
Eric Hovind said he and his family were allowed to stay on the government owned properties rent-free because they kept them maintained, and they weren't to blame for the seizures, which was confirmed by IRS agent Chuck Evans. A July 29, 2009, from the government allowed the sale of some of the properties to the Hovind’s. Eric bought his property for $40,000, Kent Andrew Hovind bought his for $50,000 and Jo Hovind, Kent’s wife, bought hers for $35,000. Throughout this process, Eric said he’s made sure he was receiving good legal and real estate advice.
Anthony Jaworski, who bought the CSE property at 5720 Palafox St, and had subsequently filed a lawsuit against the United States in March 2013 asking for the more than $100,000 he paid for the property to be returned, also testified . In his lawsuit, which was dismissed, Jaworski said he was subject to “threats, abuse, mail harassment and terror,” including a letter from Hansen regarding the legality of his purchase of the property. Jaworski seemed uncomfortable on the stand and said he just wants to sell the property and move back home to Maryland.
CSE was sold to God Quest in 2007 after Kent Hovind’s first trial in 2006, which then became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in July of that year under Eric Hovind. Eric said in court that his father did not withhold taxes from his employees because he considered them missionaries, not employees.
Eric Hovind said his father is 100 percent sincere about his claims of innocence and considering the employees as missionaries. Around this time, Kent Hovind mouthed the words, “I love you,” and pointed to Eric, who was still on the witness stand.
According to testimony, Hansen did not comply with a subpoena for his fingerprints or handwriting samples. Eventually he was fingerprinted by Hayley Lee of the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office--ten rolled, then palm prints. But Hansen wrote “NA under protest” on the card. Then, and even during his arrest at his home in Omaha, Neb., he maintained that officials had to prove his U.S. citizenship. The IRS has not found Hansen to be a citizen of any other country except the U.S.
James Snaidauf, a latent print analyst for the IRS in Chicago since 2008, was brought in regarding Hansen’s fingerprints on a piece of mail. To say that Snaidauf did a thorough job explaining the ins and outs of examining fingerprints to the jury is putting it mildly. He told of the loops, swirls and whorls used to identify fingerprints. These distinctions are created by the ridges which have three levels. Those three levels are then used to more accurately identify the individual.
The prosecution said a search warrant was filed to look into the email accounts of Eric Hovind, Hansen and Marlissa Dublin. However, the search warrant only looked into one of Hansen’s email accounts, email@example.com, and not other varieties that included more “j’s.” Likewise, only one phone number of Hansen's was searched.
Ed Sealock, another IRS special agent who works in Omaha, Neb., participated in the arrest of Hansen on Oct. 23, 2013.
Several items were found on Hansen at the time of the arrest, including his cell phone, keys, pen, envelope, belt and money, which was folded in half and clipped. Inside the money was a postcard from Kent Hovind, who urged Hansen to “fix it!” referencing either the “for sale” sign on the 5800 Palafox St. property or the lis pendens.
After the jury left the courtroom to go home for the day, Chief U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers had a few words for the attorneys, especially the defense. Judge Rodgers warned Thomas Keith, Kent Hovind’s public defender, on using a Cheek defense and said, “Ignorance of the law is not an excuse for defense.” Keith describes Kent as having “legal challenges,” to which Judge Rodgers replied, “At what point do challenges become defiant?” A Cheek defense, a reference to pilot John Cheek who was prosecuted in the 1980's for tax evasion and not filing income tax returns, is a defense that basically consists of an honest but unreasonable belief in the eyes of the court.
“No matter how sincere [Kent Hovind is], I won’t allow that as a defense,” Judge Rodgers said.
Keith believes that Kent Hovind was acting in good faith when raising legal challenges. He says that there was certainly a lack of criminal and specific intent on the part of Kent Hovind.
On the way out of the courthouse, Keith’s court case files fell off of his tiny rolling briefcase he had stacked them on. This could be a metaphor for what may come for the defense. Will it fall apart as the defense makes their case based on “legal challenges” and sincerity? Or will the defense rise to challenge and come out on top in next week’s trial?
18-year-old Abigail Megginson is an up-and-coming journalist from Pensacola, Florida. She is currently the editor-in-chief of her college newspaper (Pensacola State College’s The Corsair) and is looking to break into broadcast journalism.
Ben Sheffler is a freelance journalist living in Pensacola, Fla. He's studying psychology at the University of West Florida. You can follow him on Twitter @bensheffler.