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Friday, February 28, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bellevue Couple Plead Guilty To Tax Charges In Sex-Church Case

A Bellevue couple accused of using a church as a front for prostitution changed their plea to guilty today, admitting they intended to cheat the Internal Revenue Service.

The dramatic development in the federal tax-evasion trial of Jay Gearon, 47, and Joleen Gearon, 41, who operated the Ultimate Life Church, came as the government was about to rest its case.

The Gearons face a maximum penalty of up to 25 years in prison, a fine of up to $1.2 million, and restitution for back taxes of up to $310,000. Sentencing before U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein was set for April 24.

Under a plea agreement, the government agreed not to ask Rothstein to impose a sentence greater than the federal sentencing guideline range for the crimes, which is likely to be substantially less than 25 years.

In a statement read by defense attorney Fred Leatherman on behalf of both defendants, the Gearons said they formed the Ultimate Life Church out of "deep religious beliefs" that they still hold. But he added the couple knew the church would not qualify as a tax-exempt religious organization if they siphoned off income for their personal gain, as the government charged.

The Gearons pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States of taxes and four counts of tax evasion for the years 1985-88.

The government contended that female ministers provided masturbation in exchange for donations from men.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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