North Charleston charity founder Albert Salmon Jr.'s defense to state tax evasion charges is centering on bad bookkeeping, while he portrayed himself to a jury as a man of God who gave up a world of material goods to help others.
"I felt money was my god before I became a Christian," Salmon said on the witness stand Thursday.
Salmon, 61, is charged with four counts of felony tax evasion covering his returns from tax years 1999-2002.
State prosecutors contend he failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in income during that time from various sources, including multiple properties rented as boarding houses.
During his testimony, Salmon said he felt a calling to do the Lord's work, setting up in Charleston after hitchhiking here from his native Philadelphia.
In North Charleston, he launched what eventually would become the Good Samaritan Mission on Cochise Street, a venture he said was meant to feed, house and clothe the homeless but often was kept afloat with money from his own pocket.
Drug addicts, prostitutes and gangsters all came his way, he said, adding that he fed as many as 30 a day. Many of those he helped put to work and made to pay some rent, he testified.
Salmon, 61, who called himself an ordained reverend but has no formal theological training also described his finances from that time as haphazard, saying he would drop what receipts and records he did keep in the hands of his bookkeeper.
" 'Do the best you can,' " he said he told her.
Prosecutors contend Salmon earned well over $465,000 during the four years in question that didn't make it into any earnings report. The omission makes him guilty of tax evasion, they contend, while his defense attorney says Salmon never willfully filed a false return.
During Thursday's events, an accountant testified Salmon's charity drew money from various sources, ranging from hiring a professional fundraising service, to having the men involved in the charity carry buckets at traffic stops to ask drivers for change.
Salmon did score a courtroom victory earlier in the day when Circuit Judge Kristi Harrington agreed the state had failed to prove a fifth charge in the case of breach of trust over $5,000. Salmon had been accused of selling a piece of charity property and taking the proceeds, instead of giving it back to the charity. The ruling leaves only the four evasion charges.
Closing arguments could come as soon as today. If convicted, each evasion charge can draw up to five years in prison.