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May 11, 2013

Taking note of some notable federal tax sentences

This new Forbes commentary by Robert Wood, headlined "Lauryn Hill Jail Time --- What's A Fair Tax Sentence?", discusses some notable recent federal tax sentencing decisions. Here are excerpts (with a few links preserved):

Grammy winning Singer Lauryn Hill was sentenced in Newark.... Ms. Hill didn’t get probation alone as she had requested, but she drew only 3 months of incarceration. That is quite a good deal compared to the 24 to 36 months she faced. Her lawyer Nathan Hochman did a superb job of keeping her sentence down, stressing how she had stepped up, paid all her taxes, and more. In fact, a prior delay in sentencing may have been due to the fact that paying first is clearly better.

Whether it’s fair could be debated, but most observers would say she was lucky and ably represented. Tax sentencing isn’t an exact science. There are sentencing guidelines, but the judge also has discretion. And that can sometimes make similar missteps seem disparately treated. Just compare Stephen Baldwin’s sentence to Wesley Snipes’ [discussed here].

Ms. Hill pleaded guilty to three counts of failing to file tax returns on more than $1.8 million between 2005 and 2007. Just as with Wesley Snipes, it could have been far worse had she filed false returns....

This is a light sentence given the dollars involved. It’s the second favorable sentence drawn by Hochman in recent weeks. He was one of the lawyers for 79 year-old Mary Estelle Curran of Palm Beach, who had foreign account troubles. Like Ms. Hill, she was facing serious jail time for filing false 2006 and 2007 tax returns.

That case generated national interest with a potential prison term up to six years. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Ryskamp gave Ms. Curran one year probation, then instantly revoked it altogether. The Judge even suggested to Ms. Curran’s lawyers that they seek a Presidential pardon [discussed here].

Ms. Hill couldn’t expect the kind of deference Ms. Curran received, who had actually tried to come forward to the IRS about her foreign accounts and was rebuffed.  But regardless of whether you sympathize with celebrities, they often get bum steers from advisers, as clearly happened with Wesley Snipes.  His three-year stint seemed harsh.

In some ways, tax returns are the great levelers. Some things, after all, you just can’t delegate.

May 11, 2013 at 09:50 AM | Permalink

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