Bogus ministers and a conflicted attorney

United States v. Jackson, No. 14-60928 (5th Cir. Nov. 4, 2015).

Defendant Timothy Jackson became a minister of the Church of Compassionate Service. He told the IRS that he had taken a vow of poverty, and he transferred all his assets and future income to the Church. Jackson claimed he was exempt from federal income taxes. 

Conveniently, though, Jackson kept possession of his assets and received nine-tenths of his income back from the church. This was part of the Church of Compassionate Service’s tax-avoidance scheme, and the federal government prosecuted Jackson for tax evasion. The feds also went after Kevin Hartshorn, the Church’s “senior minister” and the architect of the whole scheme. 

To represent him, Jackson retained an attorney who had also represented Hartshorn, the Church as a whole, and other Church “ministers.” Plus, this attorney was getting paid with Church funds that Hartshorn controlled. 

The federal government moved to disqualify this attorney because he had conflict of interest—a conflict of interest so serious it couldn’t be waived. The district court granted this motion, and the Fifth Circuit now affirms. Amen.