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home : religion : e-religion June 20, 2018

6/11/2018 9:39:00 AM
More Indictments Against Members of Spindale Church

Wayne Howard
Staff Reporter

A grand jury sitting in Asheville returned a federal criminal indictment last Thursday (June 7th) charging Marion Kent Covington, 63, and Diane Mary McKinny, 65, both of Rutherfordton, with a conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with an unemployment insurance benefits scheme.

The indictment alleges that in November or December 2008, the co-defendants “laid off” nearly all of the employees at Diverse Corporate Technologies, (“DCT”), a plastics manufacturing company located in Rutherford County. The co-defendants
provided some employees with separation notices and instructed them as to how to file their own claims for unemployment insurance benefits. Those employees received money from the state based on their asserted “totally unemployed” status.

The indictment alleges that Covington then called a business meeting at DCT and informed the remaining DCT employees that the company could no longer afford to pay their wages, and that they therefore would be placed on unemployment, but that Covington expected them to continue to work at DCT, just as they had before they were laid off, in order to help the business survive.

The indictment alleges that Covington used his position of authority within the church community of Word of Faith Church, which included most of the employees at DCT, to coerce the employees to comply. Around the same time, McKinny filed claims for unemployment enefits on behalf of the employees Covington had required to continue working at DCT while they received unemployment checks.

The indictment also alleges that by September 2009, several other businesses run by members of the same church to which Covington and McKinny belonged, were encouraged to do the same--declaring employees unemployed while they were still working.

Covington implemented the scheme a second time, with McKinny’s help, at Integrity Marble & Granite, another company Covington owned and managed, in or about March of 2010. Covington then implemented a variation of the scheme a third time at Sky Catcher Communications, Inc., a company he managed, in or about May of 2011.

According to the indictment, in total, between November 2008 and March 2013, the scheme resulted in over $250,000 in fraudulent claims for employees who continued to work full-time or near-fulltime at businesses owned or managed by the co-conspirators.

Covington and McKinny are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud affecting a financial institution, which carries a maximum prison term of 30 years and a maximum fine of $1,000,000. They have been ordered to appear on a summons in federal court.

It isn't the first case brought against members of the Word of Faith Church.

A father and son who belong to the church pleaded guilty in late May to federal criminal charges in another (identical) unemployment benefits scheme some former members have said was part of a plan to keep money flowing into the church. That scheme netted nearly $150,000 for which employees were not entitled from September 2009 to March 2013.

Dr. Jerry Gross, 72, a podiatrist, and his son, Jason Lee Gross, 51, pleaded guilty to one count each of wire fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The church was not mentioned during their hearing.

As part of his plea deal, Jerry Gross, who owned the Foot & Ankle Center of the Carolinas in Forest City. agreed to cooperate with the government. The criminal investigation into Word of Faith is ongoing.

Both men were released on $200,000 unsecured bonds. Jerry Gross was ordered to forfeit $43,036 that prosecutors said was obtained illegally, while his son agreed to forfeit $38,084, according to court documents. They surrendered their passports and were instructed not to discuss the case.

A former church member, Randy Fields, said church founder Jane Whaley proposed a plan that would allow him to continue contributing at least 10 percent (what is called a tithe) of his income to the church while helping his construction company survive by filing fraudulent unemployment claims on behalf of employees.

The church, located at 207 Old Flynn Road, just off US221A and US74 in Spindale, denies any involvement in the illegal activities.

On Sunday (June 10th), I went to the church. It's at the end of a private drive and since the allegations have become news regionally and nationally, they've put up posts that blockade the entrance. A man in a suit and hat that looked like someone might have dressed in the 1950s asked my why I was there.

The reports in the news media haven't diminished the following of the church. Dozens of cars waited in line to be admitted. Those getting out of the cars included men dressed as many might have considered mandatory a half-century ago to attend church services. The women mostly wore long dresses.

The church has in common with many others (whose views may vary in other respects) that members believe that they, and they alone, have found the true meaning of the Bible and of Christianity.

The church also shares with some others having charismatic leaders who hold great sway over the opinions of the congregation on most issues.

The church's website offers a plethora of commentaries by members defending the church, calling the allegations that have been made "lies" and speaking about the 'last days' and saying those who have accused the church are 'evil men rising up against God.'

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