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Monday, March 12, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor, church delinquent in taxes and paying bills?

The Rev. Jerry Johnston and his ministries have a history of being slow to pay their taxes.

Records show that in 2002 and again in 2004, the Kansas Department of Revenue went to court to force Johnston to pay his state income taxes. Department officials said tax liens were filed only after numerous attempts were made to collect.

•A tax warrant filed in September 2002 charged that Johnston owed $5,732 on his 2000 state income tax. That judgment was satisfied in March 2003.

•A tax warrant filed in September 2004 charged that Johnston owed $5,422 on his 2002 state income tax. Johnston paid that off in February 2005.

•The Johnson County treasurer’s office reported last summer that First Family Church was delinquent in paying $8,000 in special assessment taxes to the county.

Johnston responded to the tax questions through a spokesman, Lawrence Swicegood.

"Pastor Johnston and his wife have never failed to pay income taxes," he said. "On two occasions in the past, their personal property taxes were inadvertently overlooked and went unpaid. For the past several years they have been escrowed by the Johnstons' lender and are included in his monthly mortgage payment."

As for the church's delinquent county taxes last year, Swicegood said, "the taxes to which you refer were 'special assessment' taxes. When it was determined that the Church was subject to these special assessments and that they were due and owing, the Church paid them in full."

Tax troubles, however, go back many years. Records show that in 1988 the Internal Revenue Service filed a federal tax lien against Jerry Johnston Ministries for $19,700. When asked about the lien, Swicegood said, "Your question relates back 20 years. The Church has no record of it and Pastor Johnston has no recollection of it."

Former church members and contractors also complain that despite the money flowing in, the church also is slow to pay its bills.

Earlier this month, McKnight Development Corp., an Ohio company that built the children's building, filed a mechanic’s lien against the church for $533,341.

And a local contractor, Don Lewellen, filed a mechanic's lien in January for nearly $90,000 for work on the children’s building that he said he finished Nov. 7.

"I have a bill in for October and November, and none of them were paid," said Lewellen, whose company did metal stud framing, drywall and acoustical ceiling work on the building.

Jerry Simmons, a developer who served on First Family's building committee but left the church about seven years ago, said vendors used to contact him to complain about late payments.

Attorney Eddie James said First Family was working to resolve the lien problems "in a financially responsible manner."

"It's not unusual on a project of this size to have some liens filed as the project is being closed out and issues are resolved and worked through," James said.