Jury selection underway in trial of former televangelist

The prosecution and defense are picking jurors in the federal trial of a former Charlotte televangelist and so-called "prosperity preacher" who was indicted last year on charges of failing to pay taxes and filing false tax returns after a series of WSOC-TV investigations.

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As a cable TV evangelist, Todd Coontz promised financial miracles for people who sent money to his ministry.

In February 2013, an investigation revealed he was living in a $1.38 million condo with a Ferrari and Maserati parked in the garage.

The condo was purchased by Coontz’s Rockwealth Ministries as a "parsonage" for him, according to the indictment. The court documents said the cars were also titled in the name of the ministry.

Coontz taught that if you sent him money you would be blessed. And the more you sent, you would get double or triple the blessing.

"You heard me right, the next 8 minutes ... you need to plant the 273-dollar recovery seed. I'm only going to give you two or three minutes to respond; respond now, not at the end of the program. You must respond now," he's heard to say in ministry video.

While he worked out in Beverly Hills and had a hotel room view from Rodeo Drive, it's doubtful many of his followers could do the same.

"The vast majority of people in prosperity gospel ministries - people in the pews - are mostly working class folks," explained UNCC religious studies professor Dr. Sean McCloud.

The U.S. Secret Service started looking into Coontz and Rockwealth Ministries as a result of the investigation.

The indictment revealed delinquent tax returns from as far back as 2000. For 2010-2013, Coontz owed more than $326,000 in taxes.

Investigators said he also hid his income from the Internal Revenue Service by cashing checks he received from churches and ministries for travel and speaking engagements and then claiming that same travel as business expenses.

The indictment also revealed he used business funds to pay for personal expenses, such as more than $227,000 for clothes, $140,000 at restaurants and more than 400 charges at movie theaters.

At the time of the indictment, Coontz's defense attorney, Mark Foster, said the allegations are not proof.

“He's otherwise is a good man,” Foster said. “He's tried to do the right thing all his life and he has no criminal record. We're going to fight this out.”

Foster said Coontz trusted others to manage his finances and taxes for him and was shocked to find out he was under criminal investigation by the IRS.

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