A yearlong, $25 million lawsuit filed against Alachua County's property appraiser, tax collector, clerk of the court and a number of their employees has been thrown out by a judge.
The case centered around a property said to be owned by Pastor Walter Jenkins, who claims he lives there and that it is also a church that holds religious gatherings — making it exempt from property taxes.
The property appraiser's office refuted the claim and in 2012 mailed Jenkins an invoice of $13,000 for back taxes from 2002 through 2011, stating that no one lived on the property, nor is it a church.
In 2016, the 69-year-old Jenkins sued Property Appraiser Ed Crapo and a pair of employees saying he shouldn't have to pay. Over the last year, however, Jenkins' complaint grew from eight claims against three defendants to 20 claims against 11 defendants, totaling $25 million.
Jenkins sued for trespassing, violation of right to privacy, fraud, coercion, mail fraud, extortion, financial damages, emotional stress and pain, and tampering with or fabricating evidence. Defendants in the case listed Crapo, Crapo's lawyers, former Clerk of the Court Buddy Irby, Tax Collector John Power, Alachua County and County Commissioner Robert Hutchinson.
Court records show the case closed Oct. 24.
After disputing the issue for five years, Jenkins said he is fed up.
"My journey through the court system shows me that the entire system is corrupt," he said.
Jenkins, who served as his own legal counsel, claimed Crapo's employees conducted an unauthorized field visit to the southeast Gainsville property and scattered trash and beer cans through his yard. Jenkins, who frequently travels to Anna Maria — a town 3 hours south — to tend to his sick mother, was not home at the time, but had "no trespassing" signs posted around the property, including on his locked gated that he claims was broken. Early court documents Jenkins filed list the Anna Maria address as his mailing address.
The signs, Jenkins says, subject trespassers to a $5,000 fine. The signs have since been changed, and now demand $100,000 from unwelcome visitors. The property is also equipped with several security cameras, Jenkins said.
Crapo, who denied all claims, said the property is not a church and did not have electricity for some time, proving Jenkins doesn't live there and doesn't qualify for a homestead exemption.
"It went on forever," Crapo said. "It's one of those things you wonder if it's going to show back up."
Jenkins says he doesn't own the property — LLC Trust does — and about 15 people showed up to the church's most recent gathering. Jenkins said the church, called the Lord's Light Church, is a congregation of mixed religions for people on a path to God. And unlike a typical church setting, he added, everyone gets an opportunity to speak to the crowd.
"It's more like group therapy," he said.
Crapo previously said churches must be incorporated to qualify for a tax exemption, though Jenkins said that isn't true.
Jenkins said he plans to refile the lawsuit outside of Alachua County and is also considering suing Gainesville Regional Utilities, which he said improperly installed a power cable to the house. Jenkins would not say where or when he plans to file either lawsuit.
"I'm going to come back at those people with a vengeance," he said. "It's far from over."
Tribune Content Agency