Phil Driscoll's Brother-In-Law Is Surprise Government Witness

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The government produced a surprise witness Wednesday in the trial of Phil and Lynne Driscoll - the brother of Ms. Driscoll.

Rick Blankenship of Orange Park, Fla., testified that he worked for the couple's Cleveland, Tn.,-based ministry in 1994 and became concerned about the mixing of ministry and personal funds.

He told the jury in Federal Court, "There was little or no differentiation between personal and ministry expenses."

Mr. Blankenship, who once served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Bahamas, said he advised the Grammy Award-winning Phil Driscoll to establish a budget and set up a board of directors, but he declined.

The Driscolls are standing trial on income tax evasion. Chris Blankenship, mother of Lynne Driscoll and of Rick Blankenship, was also charged, but she died just before the trial began.

Mr. Blankenship said he worked as a financial consultant to the ministry, which was then known as Mighty Horn Ministry. He said his office was in a room next to his mother's in an old house in Cleveland.

He said Phil and Lynne Driscoll would dictate business transactions that Chris Blankenship would record. Someone outside would be hired to do the tax returns.

The witness said he found that items such as clothing for Lynne Driscoll, repairs to a lake home on Parksville Lake, vacations and personal airplane trips were being charged to the ministry.

He said, "The most contentious discussions in the office were about my sister's personal shopping trips." He said Phil Driscoll spoke of "how excessive they were," and he said Lynne Driscoll's right to sign checks was taken away by Phil Driscoll "because he couldn't trust her with ministry funds."

Mr. Blankenship said he spoke with his sister about not mixing ministry and personal funds. He said, "I told her it was imperative that there be a separation between those expenses that were personal and those that were ministry and they could not be intermixed. I told her it could lead to a great deal of trouble for the ministry."

He said he told the Driscolls that the IRS was cracking down on 501C-3 tax-exempt groups and they needed to be careful.

Mr. Blankenship said he suggested to Phil Driscoll that he take a higher salary, but he said Driscoll wanted to stay at $80,000.

The witness said when he learned that ministry funds were going to pay for the lake cabin through a "parsonage fund" that "I was rather astonished."

He said, "I thought that was the wrong way to pay for personal improvements to their house."

The witness was asked by a defense attorney why he had not "had the courtesy" to tell his sister and brother-in-law he was going to testify against them. The attorney also asked if he was not on good terms with them.

He said, "I'm on good terms. I don't know whether they are or not."

He said he called the government in order "to shed light so that these people (the jury) will have all the facts before them. I'm not here to judge whether Phil or Lynne did anything wrong."

The trial will resume on Monday, May 22, in the courtroom of Judge Curtis Collier. Attorneys said it may be possible to finish it by Thursday of that week.


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