Thursday, May 19, 2005

ROANOKE — The Rev. Jerry Falwell said he told a grand jury investigating a $32,500 gift his ministry gave Lynchburg Mayor Carl B. Hutcherson Jr. that the money was to have gone to Mr. Hutcherson’s church.

Mr. Falwell said he, his son Jerry Jr., who is the general counsel for Falwell Ministries, and an accountant for the organization appeared voluntarily before the grand jury in February to answer questions about the gift made to Trinity New Life Community Development Corp.

Trinity New Life is an arm of Trinity United Methodist Church that Mr. Hutcherson used to solicit thousands of dollars in donations.

?They wanted to know that we wrote the check and what our instructions were,? the older Mr. Falwell said Wednesday. ?We said we had no complaints about how he used it.?

Authorities are investigating the gift that Falwell Ministries gave to Trinity New Life because it was given after the corporation already had lost its nonprofit status.

Mr. Falwell said he has been assured by federal prosecutors that neither he nor anyone in his organization is a target of the probe.

Besides serving as mayor of Lynchburg, Mr. Hutcherson is the pastor of the Trinity United Methodist Church and owns the Carl B. Hutcherson Funeral Home in Lynchburg.

The News & Advance of Lynchburg reported that Mr. Hutcherson owes about $20,000 in delinquent state taxes and the Virginia Department of Taxation has filed several liens against his funeral home.

Calls to Mr. Hutcherson’s office and funeral home were not returned.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the investigation.

Mr. Falwell said Mr. Hutcherson first approached him in June 2004 and asked to borrow $85,000 from the ministry, citing “some serious personal financial problems.”

“We advised him that we were sympathetic and understood that good people got in financial trouble, but it was our policy not to loan money,” he said.

A few weeks later, Mr. Falwell said Mr. Hutcherson asked for a “gift” for his church as part of the Bush administration’s faith-based initiative to rebuild inner-city communities.

Mr. Falwell said he advised Mr. Hutcherson that he could not give a gift to him personally, but he could give it to the church.

“It wasn’t hard for us to say yes,” said Mr. Falwell, whose ministry annually donates about $500,000, mostly to local churches.

The Bank of the James filed a complaint when Mr. Hutcherson deposited the Falwell check, since the development corporation’s nonprofit status had been revoked in February by the State Corporation Commission because it failed to file an annual report as required by law.

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