The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the controversial South Korean businessman-evangelist and founder of the Unification Church, was convicted today of failing to report $162,000 in income to the Internal Revenue Service.
After four days of deliberation in U.S. District Court here, the jury found Moon guilty on four counts of filing false tax returns and conspiracy.
"Don't worry. No problem," Mose Durst, president of the Unification Church of America, quoted Moon as saying after the verdict. "The way of the public life is that we serve God and we serve humanity."
Durst said, "We have the utmost faith that through the court system in America, justice will be done and our spiritual leader fully vindicated." Charles A. Stillman, a lawyer for Moon, said the verdict would be appealed.
Moon faces a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. His sentencing is scheduled for July 14. A typical sentence in such cases would be five years--the sentence for the most serious single count on which he was convicted. He could be fined as much as $25,000.
Codefendant Takeru Kamiyama, a close aide to Moon, was found guilty of conspiracy, aiding in the filing of false returns, obstruction, submitting false documents and perjury. He faces a maximum prison sentence of 51 years and a fine of up to $95,000.
The government charged that from 1973 through 1975 Moon failed to report $112,000 in interest from $1.6 million in accounts in his name at Chase Manhattan bank. It also claimed that Moon didn't report as income $50,000 worth of stock in a ginseng tea importation company which he had received as a gift.
The key issue in the trial was whether the money belonged personally to Moon or was church money held in Moon's name. If the jury had decided that the money belonged to the church, it would not have been taxable income for Moon.
Defense attorneys said that the two defendants, who at the time of the tax filings were new to this country, did not understand U.S. tax laws. After they understood the laws, the attorneys said, the defendants went back and began reconstructing their tax records. The government argued, however, that this was simply a cover-up.
Prosecutor Jo Ann Harris charged that Moon hadn't reported the income because of "greed, arrogance and power."
Moon listened stoically as the verdict was read. He shook hands with his attorneys, then turned and smiled at his followers, who have been on hand throughout the seven-week trial. Moon, accompanied by his wife who is pregnant with their 13th child, left the courtroom through a rear door. He was freed on $250,000 bond.
Moon arrived in this country from South Korea in 1972 and quickly began spreading his religious philosophy by using teams of young people who became known as Moonies. The Unification Church now claims 30,000 followers in the United States and 3 million worldwide.
Kamiyama, a native of Japan, was an accountant in the Moon organization.
Defense attorney Stillman repeatedly reminded the jury not to be prejudiced against Moon because he is Oriental and leads a "minority" church. If Moon were trying to hide the money, Stillman said, "why would Moon take that money and walk to the Chase Manhattan Bank and say . . . ,'My name is Sun Myung Moon. I want to put this cash money into your bank in an account in my name.' "
The defense all through the trial claimed that Moon was keeping the money in his name for the church, but the prosecutors presented bills, receipts and bank statements to show that the money had been used by Moon for personal and business purposes. Among the nearly 1,000 documents presented by the prosecutors was a record that the church bought Moon an estate in suburban Westchester in 1973 for $625,000, and $361,000 of that came from the Chase Manhattan accounts. U.S. District Court Judge Gerard Goettel, in a 96-page charge to the jury, said ownership of the money was at the heart of the case.
In pre-trial motions, the defense had argued for a nonjury trial, claiming that Moon was too controversial to get a unbiased jury.
After selection of the jury took more than a week, Judge Goettel wondered about the qualifications of the panel. "In attempting to get an unbiased jury, the leaning has been heavily toward people who don't read much, don't talk much, and don't know much," the judge commented.
After today's verdict, Stillman said: "We found ourselves trying this case before a jury we did not want. One of the principal issues on appeal will be whether this trial should have been a jury trial."
Special correspondent John Kennedy contributed to this report.