January 14, 2006

Should've Gone for the Stupidity Defense

THE TAX EVASION trial of Richard Hatch, the first million-dollar prize winner on the TV game show "Survivor," continues this coming week in a Providence courtroom. Yet one wonders whether Mr Hatch's attorney may have already made a crucial mistake.

You see, Mr Hatch's defense counsel has asserted to a jury that his client is not, in fact, an idiot. As an impartial observer, and someone who has done his own taxes for quite some time, I feel Mr Hatch's attorney should have come out and said his client was as dumb as a bag of rocks. That would be the most believable explanation for Hatch innocently failing to pay the taxes which prosecutors say he owed on his $1 million prize, $327,000 in related income and $28,000 in rental income. Prosecutors have charged Hatch with tax evasion, filing a false tax return, wire fraud, bank fraud and mail fraud.

The Associated Press reports:

(Hatch's) attorney, Michael Minns, argued Thursday that Hatch was struggling with his newfound fame after winning the contest, was overwhelmed by false child abuse charges and was relying on the advice of a self-employed accountant who was "in over her head."

"Richard Hatch is not a stupid man," Minns said. "He is the world's worst bookkeeper, bar none."

Federal prosecutors say Hatch filed false tax returns for 2000 and 2001 that omitted his income from the reality show, as well as $327,000 he earned as a co-host on a Boston radio show and $28,000 in rent on a property he owns in Newport.

(Prosecutor Andrew) Reich told jurors Hatch also altered checks made out to his charitable foundation, Horizon Bound, so he could use the money to renovate his Newport property.

One accountant Hatch hired estimated he owed about $230,000 in taxes for 2000, Reich said. The television star asked for a second return showing his estimated tax bill had he not won the million-dollar prize.

Despite warnings that the second analysis was for comparison only, prosecutors said, Hatch filed the return with the IRS.

Now, it may be possible for the "so my client's a little disorganized" defense to work. According to the Associated Press, Hatch has said that he thought CBS had paid the taxes on his winnings, although CBS has said Hatch knew all along that he was responsible for any tax. Still, based on reports from the second day of trial, I think the stupidity defense would have been the way to go.

The proceeding continues.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at January 14, 2006 10:53 AM | TrackBack

Survivor: Prison. Now *that* might be worth watching.

Posted by: Geoff Brown at January 22, 2006 12:15 AM