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Another New Wrinkle Regarding Cecil Newton's Church, and Why Even Minor Revelations in the Cameron Newton Investigation are Bad News for the Auburn Tigers

By now, we’ve all seen the message board analysis of the background to the Cameron Newton case, which stops only just short of parroting the conspiracy theory espoused by the Scottish father from "So I Married an Axe Murderer." Personally, I see no need to go to such great lengths to malign the Auburn Tigers, when the plainly obvious facts suffice so nicely.

Much has been made of the allegation that Holy Zion Center of Deliverance, Inc., the church of which Cecil Newton serves as pastor and chief executive officer, purportedly was having financial difficulties at the time Cam Newton was being recruited by Auburn, Mississippi State, and other suitors. I do not know whether this is true, and I make neither an assertion nor an assumption either way.

What complicates matters even more than they already have been, though, is the fact that Holy Zion Center of Deliverance, Inc., does not appear to be a valid Georgia non-profit entity at the present time.

The church originally was incorporated in 1991, with Cecil Newton as the named incorporator, but the corporation appears to have been administratively dissolved on May 16, 2008, well before the events surrounding Cam Newton’s recruitment are alleged to have occurred.

I don’t want to oversell the importance of the church’s evident dissolution as a corporate entity; under Georgia law, an administratively dissolved non-profit corporation may apply for reinstatement, and, if the application is granted, the law treats the corporation as though it had been in uninterrupted existence the entire time. In fact, it appears that Holy Zion Center of Deliverance, Inc., was dissolved before, in 1993, and reinstated in 2003 as a result of an application for reinstatement filed by Cecil Newton.

In short, this latest twist in a saga that grows more convoluted with each passing day probably means absolutely nothing, but I find it interesting---baffling, really---that, at a time when the church was under fire from city officials and under investigation by local newspapers, no one seems to have bothered to check to see if the church still existed as a legal entity, and, if not, why not. Cecil Newton has submitted bank statements from the church, suggesting that it remains in operation, but at least one report indicates that neighbors say "the church hasn’t been used in months." The administrative dissolution of Holy Zion Center of Deliverance, Inc., very well may have been due to a simple failure to renew the corporation’s annual registration, but the articles of amendment filed with the Georgia Secretary of State in 2005 indicate that, upon the dissolution of the corporation, the church’s assets were to be distributed for tax-exempt purposes, so it matters whether Holy Zion Center of Deliverance, Inc., has closed its doors or merely needs to file the paperwork to be reinstated.

It is quite standard for a non-profit entity applying for tax-exempt status from the IRS to provide for the distribution of its assets to other tax-exempt entities upon dissolving, so there is nothing the least bit odd about that language. Now that the FBI is involved, though, considerations concerning compliance with the Internal Revenue Code become relevant.

According to the Coweta County real estate records available on-line, Holy Zion Center of Deliverance, Inc., purchased its building in July 2003. (Presumably, that purchase is what prompted the reinstatement of the corporation earlier that year.) If the corporation ceased to exist in 2008, that property should have gone for tax-exempt use to another church or charitable organization. The timelines appearing in media reports seem to indicate that, during much of the time that Holy Zion Center for Deliverance, Inc., purportedly was trying to make repairs to its building, Holy Zion Center for Deliverance, Inc., did not, strictly speaking, exist.

More often than not, corporations are administratively dissolved due to clerical oversights when someone simply forgets to file the proper paperwork with the Secretary of State. There is no reason to believe anything more sinister occurred here, particularly since Holy Zion Center of Deliverance, Inc., apparently went through a similar dissolution with no ill effects upon reinstatement. As Paul Westerdawg noted, though, the only two people you would less rather see in your front yard than an FBI agent are an IRS agent and Jim Cantore. If, as appears to be the case, Cecil Newton’s church was dissolved (even innocently and accidentally) as a non-profit entity, questions could arise concerning the assets of the defunct corporation. The process of providing satisfactory answers to those inquiries will produce further grist for the mill.

Like everyone else who is following this story from the outside, I have no idea who is telling the truth and what, if anything, is being concealed. The Newtons are entitled to the presumption of innocence, both legally and morally, and I do not suppose that the ostensible dissolution of the church resulted from anything more than carelessness.

Nevertheless, there reportedly is an ongoing federal investigation into these matters, which appear to involve a now-nonexistent non-profit corporation continuing to operate as a tax-exempt entity. Even if (as likely is the case) all of this is entirely innocuous, some intrepid IRS agent may ask about the possibility of benefits to private interests with respect to this legally-defunct church.

The more areas into which government agents believe they have cause to poke and prod, the more information they are going to unearth that the NCAA otherwise might not have gotten, and the less of a priority the continued collegiate eligibility of Cameron Newton (who likely is three games away from ending his amateur career, in any case) will be to the quarterback and his father. The more questions are asked by agents in the employ of the federal government, the more the NCAA will begin to look like small potatoes. Even if those federal agents ultimately conclude that everything is on the up and up, their presence on the scene is not good news for Auburn.

Every new wrinkle renders more complex a situation the Tiger faithful have been hoping will end with a simple explanation. The longer this goes on, and the deeper this goes, the worse it will be for the Plainsmen, and it doesn’t look like there will be a cessation of revelations anytime soon.

Go ‘Dawgs!