COVINGTON — A Northern Kentucky religious figure who told followers the end of the world was imminent will hear his tax evasion sentence on Wednesday.
Ronald Weinland was convicted in June of failing to pay $245,000 on his $4.4 million income from 2004 through 2007.
The Kentucky Enquirer reported the government wants a five-year prison sentence for Weinland, 63, who lives in Union. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert McBride wrote in his motion that Weinland took advantage of his followers.
"Weinland exploited ... members' devotion to him as the Prophet," Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert McBride wrote in a sentencing memorandum. "Weinland's scheme, lasting many years, perverted his role as a religious leader serving his church to a minister who used his church for financial gain and to escape his tax liabilities."
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Defense attorney Christopher Coffman argued in a motion for a lesser sentence that federal guidelines call for only half the time requested by prosecutors. He said Weinland has already been subject to punishment.
"No one who has witnessed the highly public destruction and ridicule visited upon Mr. Weinland and his family will be tempted to engage in similar conduct," Coffman wrote in his motion. "The indictment in 2011 brought increased media scrutiny and public contempt and significantly damaged his reputation."
U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves has received nearly 200 letters from around the world asking for leniency with Weinland. Followers say he helped them through drug addictions or financial hardships.
"I believe salvation is available for everyone according to God's plan and purpose, and I believe God inspires Ron Weinland to be Minister and Prophet to God's Church at this end time," one follower wrote, according to court documents. The name on the letter had been redacted.
Weinland's ministry is known as the Church of God — Preparing for the Kingdom of God (PKG). He has told followers that society is in its "final days" and predicts the return of Jesus Christ on May 19, 2013, though he had previously projected May 27, 2012, as the return.
Weinland, who argued at trial that he was being attacked for his religious beliefs, addressed his conviction on his website by asking followers to pray.
"We are to pray for those who have engaged in activities against us, who have participated in ridicule and shown disdain toward us," he wrote. "We are to be of a forgiving attitude and remember we were once in those shoes and God has forgiven us."
McBride says in court documents that the claim of religious persecution is "baseless."
"It was Weinland at trial who invoked his religious beliefs as justification for his actions. His false claim of religious bias is, however, consistent with his practice of hiding his misconduct under the cloak of religion," McBride wrote.
"Weinland set up PKG as a religious nonprofit, in part, to shield his activities," he wrote. "As a religious nonprofit, PKG had no reporting obligation to the government — not even the minimal reporting the government requires of non-religious nonprofit organizations."
McBride also noted in his sentencing motion that the ministry Weinland started continues to operate.