Gospel Musician Phil Driscoll Faces Sentencing Thursday

Prosecutors Ask 18-24 Months, D.C. Attorney Asks Lighter Term

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Prosecutors are asking for an 18-24-month federal prison sentence for Grammy-Awarding winning Christian performer Phil Driscoll at his sentencing on Thursday for income tax evasion.

Paula Junghans, his Washington, D.C., attorney, is asking for a lighter term.

She said in a 30-page sentencing memorandum, "A sentence 'sufficient but not greater than necessary' to satisfy the purposes of sentencing in the case would permit Mr. Driscoll the opportunity to rebuild his ministry, satisfy his tax obligations, support his family, and continue the good he has done for so long."

Driscoll, who has continued to operate his ministry concert schedule, is due to appear before Federal Judge Curtis Collier at 2 p.m.

The government said it will rely at the sentencing on proof from the trial that the total tax loss from the Driscoll ministry was $128,627.

Prosecutor William Mackie of Knoxville said the government will call rebuttal witnesses should the defendant maintain at the sentencing that his cabin on Parksville Lake or a home on Stevenson Lane in Cleveland were his residences in addition to his home at 245 Davis Trail Road in Cleveland. Driscoll has since moved his ministry out of Cleveland.

The prosecutor said the Parksville Lake cabins are "seasonal vacation cabins" and not primary homes.

Attorney Junghans said the case, including claims involving the defendant's wife, Lynne Driscoll, and mother-in-law, Christine Blankenship, was initially claimed to be about $340,000. She said the case "when stripped of claims based on novel and unsupportable legal theories - was about approximately $236,000 spread over a period of four years. Certainly, that is a meaningful sum, but it hardly constitutes fraud on a grand scale."

Lynne Driscoll went to trial also and the jury hung up on one case against her. It was later decided not to prosecute her further. Mrs. Blankenship died just before the trial.

Attorney Junghans said the claims against the Driscolls arose from an IRS investigation of contributions made to the ministry by businessman David Mobley.

She said the Driscolls immediately turned over their financial records and the government's case was based entirely on those.

The attorney said the prosecution "devoted itself trying to portray Mr. Driscoll - and his wife - as extravagant. Even though it made no claim that certain expenditures were reported incorrectly for tax purposes, it displayed photographs of the Driscolls' primary home, introduced evidence of the vehicles they drove, and had a witness complain about the salary the ministry paid her. Yet when witnesses attempted to describe instances of generosity or charity, the government objected."

The memorandum says Phil Driscoll was born in Seattle, Wash., in 1947, the son of a pastor of a small gospel church. The family later moved to Lancaster, Tex., where Driscoll began to play a trumpet given him by his father. He quickly became accomplished on it and was invited to play in the high school band while still in the sixth grade.

The family moved to Tulsa, Okla., in 1961, and Driscoll played trumpet in the Tulsa All City Band and was a soloist in the Tulsa Youth Symphony. He helped found a touring band called the "Young Tulsans" that is still in existence.

When he graduated from high school, he was offered more than 60 music scholarships. However, he took a year to tour the country with a jazz band.
He enrolled at Baylor University in 1968 and the next year he cut his first gospel album. He appeared on a number of TV shows, including the Ed Sullivan Show, the Merv Griffin Show and the Steve Allen Show. He toured the Far East for the USO.

The memorandum says Driscoll moved to Jacksonville, Fla., and opened a nightclub called "Driscoll's." He began to write and record music in a small studio inside the club. His music was recorded by Blood Sweat & Tears and other groups, and he was invited to tour with Joe Cocker at the end of 1977.

It says Driscoll during this time "was exposed to life in the fast lane and learned to like it." After a brief marriage in college, he had been married again in the early 1970s, but that marriage did not last, though it produced a son, Shawn.

The memorandum says, "Fortunately, while in Jacksonville, Mr. Driscoll met and fell in love with Lynne Blankenship, and she has been with him ever since."

It says the couple went to church on Christmas Day 1977, and he "had a conversion experience which changed not only his heart but the entire direction of his life and career. From that day on, he resolved to dedicate himself to living a life of faith and to using his talents to spread the gospel."

It says that resolve was interrupted a month later when he was arrested and charged as part of a 32-count cocaine distribution conspiracy in Jacksonville. "The matter was resolved, but it drastically affected the way he was perceived in Jacksonville and contributed to his decision to relocate."

Driscoll was ordained as a minister in the early 1980s, and he moved to Cleveland, Tn., in 1982 because it was home to many Christian organizations and schools.

He founded Mighty Horn Ministries in 1982.

Driscoll later won a Grammy Award, several Dove Awards and was named Artist of the Year by the Christian Music Association in 1999.

Attorney Junghans said, "As attested to in the many letters submitted in anticipation of his sentencing, he has provided inspiration and comfort to thousands, both in this country and throughout the world."

She said, "Although he achieved - for a time - a comfortable lifestyle, he never amassed any real wealth, using all of his property to fund or secure the operations of the ministry, and losing most of it when the ministry was beset by financial problems. He shunned any number of opportunities to exploit his talent in the commercial music industry, preferring to stay with his singular message."

Some 40 letters were submitted to the court in his behalf. Attorney Junghans said, "Together, they paint a moving portrait of this uniquely talented but very human person."

The letters "come from all walks of life - from the famous to the unknown, from other ministers and from the judiciary, from law enforcement, a banker, businessmen who have worked closely with him and seen him in the limelight as well as in difficult times. Uniformly, they convey another common message - Phil Driscoll is unique, because he has an extraordinary talent and has devoted himself to using that ability to spread a message of faith and love of country."

She said he has performed at the Inauguration, the dedication of the Columbine memorial, the ceremony for the Congressional Medal of Honor winners and the post-9/11 Emmy Awards.

Attorney Junghans said, "One of the most painful aspects of this prosecution has been that the accusations of wrongdoing were made not only against Mr. Driscoll but against his wife and late mother-in-law. It is impossible for Mr. Driscoll to escape the feeling that the pressure of the prosecution hastened Mrs. Blankenship's death, and the family's pain was enhanced by the spiteful and hurtful appearance of Richard Blankenship (brother of Lynne Driscoll who testified for the government)."

Attorney Junghans said since the indictment "many invitations to Mr. Driscoll were rescinded, and churches or groups that had invited him for years went silent."

Phil Driscoll, who did not testify at the trial, said in a letter to the court that "our name and that of our ministry were marred and all but destroyed, and many of our closest friends turned their backs and walked away."

Attorney Junghans said, "In this case, there can be no doubt that any misconduct involved pales in comparison to the enormous good Mr. Driscoll has accomplished - and hopes to continue to achieve. The court should fashion a sentence that allows him to do so."

She said Driscoll has only about $30,000 left. She said, as a result of the Mobley prosecution, both he and his ministries went into bankruptcy and the Driscolls lost most of the value of their retirement accounts.

The government is seeking an order for Driscoll to pay almost $25,000 in costs of prosecution, and the IRS has issued a notice of deficiency for more than $1 million in taxes, interest and penalties for the years 1996 through 1999.

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