City minister found guilty of criminal tax charge

Showell agrees to pay Maryland back $34,943

March 06, 2004|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

The head of a prominent East Baltimore church was found guilty yesterday of a criminal tax charge of willfully failing to turn over to the state thousands of dollars of employee withholding taxes from a funeral home he operates.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Joseph P. Manck announced the verdict after Bishop Franklin C. Showell, pastor of First Apostolic Institutional Faith Church in Washington Hill, entered an Alford plea.

The plea means that although Showell does not admit violating the law, he acknowledges that sufficient evidence exists to convict him of the crime.

As part of a plea agreement with the attorney general's office, Showell - who is in personal bankruptcy and has been battling the city for the past two years over several blighted properties owned by the church's development arm - consented to pay the state $34,943 in back taxes.

In return, prosecutors agreed to drop 13 other criminal counts against Showell for failing to remit taxes withheld from employees of Nutter Funeral Homes Inc. of West Baltimore, of which he is the president.

The attorney general's office recommended a sentence of five years in prison for the single count, with all but six months suspended. The count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Manck indicated he would not impose jail time when Showell, 62, is sentenced March 18.

"As long as the money is paid, I would have no problem with granting probation before judgment," Manck said.

Showell's lawyer, James L. Rouse, presented a check to the state yesterday.

During the court appearance and afterward, Rouse indicated the tax problem was due to the negligence of subordinates but said Showell recognized his obligation to make sure the money was paid.

"He's taken full responsibility for that operation," Rouse said. "He's faced the music."

Showell made no statement in court and declined to comment afterward.

The tax charges against Showell stemmed from unpaid withholding taxes from February 2000 through March 2001.

Showell's plea comes close to resolving the criminal tax case against him, but it does not end his legal and financial problems.

He has outstanding liens totaling $208,719 for unpaid withholding taxes on Nutter employees dating back to 1992, according to the state comptroller's office.

Earlier this week, Cindy R. Diamond, a lawyer for a Texas company that bought the Nutter property on Gwynns Falls Parkway after it was foreclosed, said her client was moving ahead with plans to evict the business, but said she did not know when the eviction might take place.

Evan Helfrich, a lawyer for the city, said he was drafting contempt citations to be filed this month against Showell for the Apostolic Community Development Corp.'s failure to meet court-ordered deadlines for making repairs to several blighted properties near the church.

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