3 top ministers fail to pay state sales tax

Note: "Together in the Harvest Ministries" (Steve Hill) and "Partners in Revival" (John Kilpatrick) ministries are now both members of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

The Pensacola News Journal/November 16, 1997
By J.Lowe Davis

Pensacola -- Florida taxpayers are getting almost no benefit from the millions of dollars of Brownsville Revival-related merchandise.

Three of the revival's four top ministers are paying no sales tax to the state on the products they sell. According to the Department of Revenue, the ministries of Steve Hill, John Kilpatrick and Lindell Cooley are in violation of the law.

Brownsville Assembly of God also pays no tax on its large product line of videotapes, cassettes, T-shirts and other revival products it sells.

State law exempts churches from having to pay sales tax when they buy products and supplies and from having to collect, and send to the state, county and city any taxes on the products they sell.

But the rules are different for the individual ministers' own nonprofit corporations -- even though they are selling their merchandise inside a church, according to a spokesman for the Department of Revenue.

Unless they meet the state's narrow definition of a church -- holding regular worship services at a specific location -- nonprofits need two numbers for the state:

Consumer Exemption Certificate: This exempts them from paying tax when they buy things. But having this does not exempt them from the duty to collect sales tax when they sell something. When they sell, they are "dealers" and must have:

Sales Tax Registration: This is for collecting sales tax on things they sell. They have to send in the tax monies to the state.

Three of the nonprofit corporations handling revival merchandise do not have dealer registrations. They are pastor John Kilpatrick's Feast of Fire Ministries, evangelist Steve Hill's Together in the Harvest and Lindell Cooley's Music Missions International, Inc.

Chuck Springston, public information spokesman for the Department of Revenue, said none of the three are in the department's records, either for a consumer exemption certificate or dealer sales tax registration.

"Unless they registered under a name other than the one that is commonly known, they aren't registered," he said.

Kilpatrick will not disclose any details about his ministry's sales.

He said in an interview with the News Journal three weeks ago that the ministry was paying sales tax. Receipts for items purchased from his ministry, Feast of Fire, do not show that sales tax was charged.

His attorney, Larry Morris said last week that he had just learned, via an opinion from an accounting firm, Feast of Fire must collect and pay sales tax. He said he was going to recommend to Kilpatrick that he "self-report" to the state and pay the taxes right away.

Hill's ministry, Together in the Harvest, reported in its most recent IRS return that its sales totaled $141,592.

Hill said in an interview with the News Journal three weeks ago that the ministry was paying sales tax. Receipts for items purchased from his ministry do not show that sales tax was charged.

Lindell Cooley's MMI Ministries has not been charging tax on its products but has been setting aside 7 percent of its sales revenue in anticipation that the taxes might be due, said general manager Larry Day. He said that when the corporation formed, seven months ago, he asked the state about the taxes and had been trying to get a clarification ever since.

On Nov. 7, Day said, he received an opinion from an accountant that MMI does have to charge tax.

Michael Brown's ICN Ministries has a dealer number, indicating it is collecting sales tax, Springston said. To protect taxpayer confidentiality, he said, he could not disclose how much sales tax ICN has paid.

Some items are never taxable, either when the corporation buys them or sells them: Bibles, hymn books, prayer books, altar items, sacramental items, ceremonial raiment and equipment.

A book of sermons, tapes of sermons and services and pastors' autobiographies do not fall within the state's specific merchandise exemptions, Springston said.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.