District attorney: Grand jury takes no action against Kingsport pastor investigated for ‘financial impropriety’


KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – According to Sullivan County District Attorney Barry Staubus, a grand jury took no action against a Kingsport pastor formerly investigated for “financial impropriety.”

A grand jury statement released by Staubus says the Tennessee Department of Revenue was informed by the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office about a case of alleged misuse of a Tennessee Tax Exempt Certificate on October 17, 2019.

PREVIOUS: State investigating Kingsport pastor for possible financial wrongdoing

After an investigation, testimony was presented by a special agent from the department to the Sullivan County Grand Jury regarding Pastor Ronald Owens of the Higher Ground Baptist Church.

According to reports from the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office, Owens had been accused of improperly using the church’s tax-exempt status for the purchase of items that were not intended for church use.

The grand jury summary shows that Owens had bought items for his not-for-profit camp outside of Sullivan County.

Some of the items bought were kitchen equipment, folding tables, folding chairs, a television and clothing.

Church funds were not used to buy the items, but sales tax was not collected due to the church’s tax-exemption status being used.

The grand jury report states Owens returned the items in question on October 7 and October 18. He then repurchased them and paid Tennessee tax.

After reviewing testimony, the grand jury considered criminal charges of tax evasion but ultimately chose to take no action, due to Owens’ repayment and restitution.

According to the report, “The Grand Jury collectively did not condone the pastor’s actions and found them to be morally and ethically questionable.”

The state Department of Revenue was also satisfied with this result.

The summary says actions like Owens’ can negatively impact a church’s tax exemption status.

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