- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 15, 2004

Three members of a religious group in New Jersey were arrested this week on charges of evading federal taxes, which the group says it refuses to pay because it doesn’t want “the blood of those killed in warfare” on its hands.

A 21-count indictment unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court in Camden, N.J., named three members of the Restored Israel of Yahweh, a Bible society known for its contentious relationship with the Internal Revenue Service.

Prosecutors charged Joseph Donato, 46, Kevin McKee, 47, and Mr. Donato’s wife, Inge, 44, with conspiracy to defraud the United States, evasion of federal employment taxes and failure to file individual tax returns.

The indictment said Mr. Donato and Mr. McKee operated and Mrs. Donato did the bookkeeping for Donato Construction, a company that since 1996 had failed to report and pay federal taxes on behalf of its employees, who belong to the religious group.

Restored Israel of Yahweh, which has 35 to 40 members, does not deny that the taxes went unpaid, although it said that the indictment “contains a trumped-up conglomeration of lies and an attack on our moral stand.”

The group’s Web site says members “follow the entire Bible and sincerely try to do as it teaches. Therefore, we do not pay federal income tax.”

“A tax is actually a payment for a service rendered,” the site says. “Killing of innocent and deceived people whose political views are different from those of the U.S. is not a service we want rendered. For this, we are persecuted and threatened with jail.”

The Donatos and Mr. McKee were arrested at their homes Monday. Mrs. Donato was released on $100,000 bond, while the others were held after “refusing to obey the parameters of any bail package,” according to a statement by U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie. The three will be arraigned April 22.

The indictment also says that the defendants underreported employee wages by an estimated $698,736 from 1996 and 2001. Each of the three is charged with a count of conspiracy and 12 counts of evasion on behalf of a construction company. Each count carries a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

About a dozen of the group’s members were said to be picketing yesterday in front of the tax offices in Mays Landing, N.J.

Jennifer L. Davis described herself as a “baptized member” of the group, which formed during the early 1970s, when “there were a lot of members jailed for this very thing.”

Citing the war in Iraq, Mrs. Davis said, “We’ve looked at the national budget, and what we’ve found is that over 80 percent of federal taxes goes to the military.”

She said there are 35 to 40 baptized members who believe in the “Old and New Testament,” with emphasis on the Ten Commandments, one of which is “Thou shalt not kill.”

“We’re basically law-abiding citizens, but when the laws of man conflict with the laws of the Almighty God, then we’re going to choose to obey the Almighty God,” she said, adding that the group has no problem with local and state taxes.

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