Many pastors don’t enjoy a life of international vacations, dining out, online dating services and private school tuition for their children. But that was life of First Meliorite Church’s Michael Jon Kell.
The 68-year-old Cobb County man was sentenced to a year and a half in prison on Tuesday, federal prosecutors said in a news release, for funneling $2 million through the tax-favorable church.
“Kell thought he could outsmart the IRS and avoid paying his fair share of taxes to the government by hiding his personal wealth behind the doors of a church he created and controlled in an effort to thwart the IRS while living a lavish lifestyle,“ said Thomas J. Holloman with the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigation division.
Instead of going to trial on those charges, Kell took a plea deal in May that had him facing a maximum of three years in prison.
Kell was a medical doctor who patented multiple inventions and worked as a consultant, according to an indictment.
Part of the money Kell siphoned through the church he earned from various patented invention royalty and consulting fees.
The ex-doctor lived in a 4,500-square-foot brick Vinings home with five bedrooms and as many bathrooms.
He transferred ownership of that multi-million dollar home several times over the years to various entities of his “in an effort to protect the property from creditors,” like the IRS, prosecutors said.
Kell was a licensed radiologist in Georgia until 2001, when records show he gave up his medical license.
That was months after a Fulton County judge found him guilty of Medicaid fraud and tax evasion for ordering up multiple needless $200 drug screenings for clients at his methodone clinic, according to state authorities.
In January 2001, officials found that Kell — who claimed he didn’t have to pay income taxes — hadn’t filed a state income tax return since 1995, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported. In that case, he took a plea deal avoiding prison time, Fulton court records indicate.
In this most recent case, Kell admitted to lying to the IRS during a September 2012 interview.
The church had an independent board of directors who would approve large or unusual expenses, investigators said, but Kell declined to mention that his wife was on the board. He only identified her as a “cook and the housekeeper,” according to the plea deal.
The church was part of the Universal Life Church organization, which ordained Kell as a minister, according to the group’s website. The website said Kell believes people should “practice integrity always.”
He was ordered Tuesday to pay $321,878.40 in restitution to the IRS.
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