Bend self-help teacher indicted

Eric Plantenberg faces tax evasion charges in federal court in Wisconsin

By Rachael Rees / The Bulletin

Published Oct 24, 2013 at 05:00AM

A federal grand jury has indicted Bend resident Eric Plantenberg, a personal development teacher and public speaker, on charges of income tax evasion and willful failure to pay tax for the years 2006-2008.

The indictment, filed Oct. 9 in Madison, Wisc., alleges Plantenberg concealed his income by routing it through a series of accounts and through the Utah-based Church of Compassionate Service, which the federal government has said its founder used to promote a “false church-based tax fraud scheme.”

Neither the amount of total income earned nor taxes owed was listed in the indictment. It states that Plantenberg’s gross income exceeded $8,450 in 2006; $8,750 in 2007 and $8,950 in 2008.

But Plantenberg, who plans to voluntarily appear in federal court next month, said the allegations are untrue. He said he joined the Church of Compassionate Service as a minister in 2000 and took a vow of poverty that required him to transfer his assets to the church.

But he resigned from the church, he said, in 2010 when the federal government questioned him about the legitimacy of the church.

The government filed a civil suit in U.S. District Court in Utah against church founder Kevin Hartshorn in 2010. According to federal court records, Hartshorn told church ministers they were not required to pay taxes on income they earned that they assigned to the church.

In April 2012, a federal judge ordered Hartshorn to stop promoting church-based tax fraud schemes and stop telling taxpayers they were not required to file federal income tax returns if they assigned their income to a church entity, according to court records.

Hartshorn has appealed the judge’s order to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has yet to rule.

Plantenberg moved to Bend in late 2008, he said. Earlier this year he was named to the board of a Bend nonprofit that promotes youth participation in sports. However, both the nonprofit and Plantenberg said this week he is not affiliated with the organization.

While the indictment states Plantenberg owns three Madison-based businesses — Freedom Personal Development, Freedom Professional Services and IKinetic Solutions — he said he co-founded but never owned two of them and transferred ownership of IKinetic to the church in 2000.

“It was a huge surprise when the IRS showed up on our doorstep in 2010,” Plantenberg said. “We had received no communication from them about this matter previously.”

He said he has been in communication with the IRS since July 2010 and didn’t know what would happen.

“I have repeatedly offered to pay any taxes and/or penalties that I owe,” he wrote in an email. “At this time, there are no taxes that I am being asked to pay that I’m unwilling to pay.

“That this is being pursued as a criminal matter of tax evasion doesn’t make sense ... I’m grateful that an unbiased jury will have the final say in this matter.”

“It was a huge surprise when the IRS showed up on our doorstep in 2010. We had received no communication from them about this matter previously.”

— Eric Plantenberg, a personal development teacher and public speaker