Barry Pleads Guilty in Tax Case

Marion Barry, saluting well-wishers outside court, earned more than $530,000 during his hiatus from office but never filed a tax return documenting it.
Marion Barry, saluting well-wishers outside court, earned more than $530,000 during his hiatus from office but never filed a tax return documenting it. (By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)
By Yolanda Woodlee and Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 29, 2005

Former D.C. mayor Marion Barry pleaded guilty yesterday to two misdemeanor tax charges, admitting in federal court that he failed to pay most of his income taxes for five years after departing from the District government in 1999.

Barry, who returned to politics last year after being elected to represent Ward 8 on the D.C. Council, earned more than $530,000 during his five-year hiatus from office but never filed a tax return documenting the income, prosecutors said.

Outside the courthouse, Barry voiced regret but offered no explanation. "I made a mistake," he said in brief remarks after the plea.

Barry (D), who faces up to 18 months behind bars and criminal fines of up to $30,000, will seek probation when he is sentenced Jan. 18, his attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., said in court. It was, coincidentally, on that date in 1990 that Barry was arrested at the Vista Hotel after being videotaped smoking crack, an image that for years has haunted him and the city he led. Prosecutors said they will take no position on Barry's sentence.

The tax investigation centered on Barry's income in the years after he left the mayor's office in January 1999. The Internal Revenue Service started sending him delinquency notices in 2002 and continued to do so for about three years. Earlier this year, with the taxes still unpaid, a criminal investigation was launched.

A grand jury began hearing evidence of the alleged fraud, and the prospect of felony charges loomed for Barry, who is 69 and no longer the indefatigable figure he was earlier in his political career. A cancer survivor, Barry has diabetes and high blood pressure and has been hospitalized at least three times this year.

With the potential consequences apparent, Barry and his attorney moved swiftly to bring the investigation to a close, according to prosecutors. After being informed of the criminal inquiry, Barry immediately agreed to file returns, pay all taxes due and admit his crimes, the prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorneys James W. Cooper and Thomas E. Zeno, said in papers presented yesterday in court.

Barry, his attorney and prosecutors have been working toward a plea agreement for the past few weeks. Because the charges are misdemeanors, not felonies, Barry will be able to remain on the council. He signed off on the agreement yesterday morning, and hours later, he was in the courtroom.

Wearing a charcoal suit, a dark tie and a white shirt with monogrammed French cuffs, Barry listened as Cooper outlined the offenses to Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson. Asked by Robinson whether the allegations were true, Barry paused briefly and said, "Yes, it's accurate."

Charged with one count of failing to pay his federal income taxes and one count of failing to pay his District taxes, both for calendar year 2000, Barry was summoned to a podium in the well of the courtroom to enter his plea.

After each charge was read by courtroom clerk Lorita Miller, Barry said, "Guilty, your honor."

Investigators found no evidence of tax evasion, the prosecutors said. Tax evasion -- a felony charge -- is the deliberate misrepresentation of income records in an effort to lower the amount of taxes owed.

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