Jailed owner fights to keep park open

Feds can seize Dinosaur Adventure Land
Jailed owner fights to keep park open
Michael Stewart - Pensacola News journal - July 21, 2008 - original
Chandler Ormsby, 8, recently took the "leap of faith" at Dinosaur Adventure Land, a Christian theme park in Pensacola dedicated to debunking evolution.

An attraction at the park, the leap of faith consists of two swings that propel children from an elevated deck in "Pterodactyl Territory" to the ground below.

Chandler likely wasn't aware the park's creator, Kent Hovind, is serving a 10-year sentence for tax fraud and that he and his son, Eric Hovind, are trying to stop efforts by the Internal Revenue Service to seize the property for unpaid taxes.

"The truth is I didn't know it was here until it got negative press, which I think is sad," said Chandler's mother, Ashley Ormsby, of Gulf Breeze.

The U.S. District Court of Appeals 11th Circuit in Atlanta has given the U.S. Attorney's Office in Pensacola until Aug. 14 to respond to an appeal to overturn the conviction of Kent Hovind and his wife, Jo Hovind.

Kent Hovind is incarcerated at Edgefield Federal Correction Institution in South Carolina.

Jo Hovind is free on bond pending the appeal. She was sentenced to a year and a day in prison on 45 counts of evading bank-reporting requirements.

Kent Hovind was found guilty in November 2006 on 58 federal counts, including failure to pay $473,818 in employee-related taxes and making threats against investigators.

'Lawsuits and complaints'

Kent Hovind sparred with IRS officials for at least 17 years before his conviction, claiming he had no income or property since he was employed by God and said park workers were ministers not subject to earthly payroll taxes.

He also was convicted of impeding an IRS action by, among other things, filing "frivolous lawsuits and complaints" against the agency.

At Kent Hovind's October 2006 trial, a Florida attorney with the Christian Law Association said Hovind disputed the government's right to tax him and likened his ministry's power to that of a foreign industry.

"He tried to stress to me that he was like the pope and this was like the Vatican," Seminole attorney David Gibbs testified.

The Hovinds also are appealing IRS attempts to seize their assets, including Dinosaur Adventure Land, which remains open more than a year and a half after the couple's conviction.

Eric Hovind has taken over management of the theme park, an employee said. Eric Hovind was out of town last week and was unavailable for comment.

About a dozen cars and a church school bus were parked outside the park, which features dinosaur-themed rides, games and exhibits dedicated to the belief that man and dinosaurs roamed the Earth together.

Children played throughout the park and perused exhibits like the One Room School House, filled with articles promoting creationism to counter, as one sign reads, "the lies found in textbooks."

"I was kind of skeptical about the place because I've heard some things about brainwashing," said Pensacola resident Suzann Sizemore, 21, a philosophy major and Christian. She said she was pleasantly surprised, however, after visiting the park with her sister.

"I'm a believer," she said. "I have confidence the Earth was created by God."

'Raw deal'

During an IRS raid of the Hovinds' home, investigators found about $42,000 in cash stashed "all over the place," along with a half-dozen guns, including a Russian-made SKS carbine.

Neighbors said the IRS depicting Kent Hovind during his trial as a combative tax evader did not jibe with their experiences with the man.

Pensacola resident Scott Hall, 47, has worked at the building next door to the theme park for 21 years, first as manager of Williams Hardware and later as manager of Pensacola Habitat for Humanity Home Store, which took over the building.

When Hurricane Ivan struck, Kent Hovind brought free gas to the workers and never asked for anything in return, Hall said.

"He just gave it to us," Hall said. "He's loaned us his forklift and lots of other things. If you ever needed anything, he would just go get it."

Charles and Rhoda Harding, who run Adams Pawn across from the park, agreed.

They said Kent Hovind and his sons often made purchases at the shop. The Hardings said the Hovinds fixed their door for them more than once and were always quick to offer help.

"I think he got a raw deal," Rhoda Harding said. "Even if he did what they said he did, he shouldn't be in jail. He should be out paying restitution."

Neither attorneys for the Hovinds, nor officials with the IRS and U.S. Attorney's Office returned phone calls for this article.