By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) is back in trouble with federal authorities over his income taxes.
Federal prosecutors are seeking to revoke Barry's probation on misdemeanor tax charges because, they say, the former mayor has failed to meet his promises to pay old tax debts and also did not file returns for 2005.
The U.S. attorney's office did not oppose probation for Barry when he was sentenced in March, but his plea agreement called for him to follow the law and work out payments for taxes from 1999 through 2004. Now prosecutors are asking the federal judge in the case to consider sending him to prison.
"The Court's patience should be at an end," Assistant U.S. Attorneys James W. Cooper and Thomas E. Zeno wrote in a motion to Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson, adding that Barry "continues to flout" city and federal laws.
Under sentencing guidelines, Barry could have faced 12 to 18 months in prison for failure to file a federal income tax return and failure to make a District of Columbia return. Now that time could be back on the table if the judge decides that Barry isn't living up to his agreement with prosecutors and his promises to the court.
And that might be only the beginning of his problems in the case. In November, the Internal Revenue Service began garnishing Barry's D.C. Council salary because he failed to follow through with a payment plan for the taxes he owed for 1999 through 2004.
Barry, 70, did not return calls seeking comment.
Frederick D. Cooke Jr., Barry's attorney, said he has not talked to his client about the problem with his 2005 taxes. But Cooke said he expects to file court papers challenging the prosecutors' bid to revoke Barry's probation.
Cooke said he expects a hearing in the next month.
Barry paid $1,000 toward his tax debts in July, and his accountant expressed a willingness to establish a payment plan, an IRS agent said in an affidavit filed by prosecutors in U.S. District Court. But at a meeting in September, Barry's accountant talked about submitting amended returns along with the payment schedule.
Barry has yet to act, the agent, Don M. Sender, said in his affidavit.
Details about the latest tax dispute were first reported over the weekend by CNN.
Why Barry failed to file federal or local income tax returns for 2005 is unclear. The prosecutors do not allege that he failed to pay taxes for 2005; without returns, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to determine whether he had paid enough through payroll deductions to cover what would be owed for that year. Prosecutors said Barry sought an extension in filing the federal income tax return that was due last April 15; the IRS gave him until Oct. 15, to no avail.
Barry is facing hearings in two courthouses. Last week, he was in D.C. Superior Court dealing with other legal entanglements.
Stopped by police twice last year in the District, he faces several charges, including driving under the influence in connection with the first stop, in September in Northwest Washington. At a court hearing, a judge set a June 12 date for a trial on the traffic charges after Cooke made it clear that Barry does not believe he did anything wrong and is not prepared to plead guilty to any of the charges.
It is in federal court, though, where Barry faces the most serious potential consequences.
Even before the latest revelations, Barry had stumbled in the tax case. Soon after pleading guilty to the misdemeanor tax charges in October 2005, he tested positive for cocaine and marijuana in a court-required drug screening. Then he waited until just before sentencing to contact the IRS about repayment, upsetting the judge as well as the prosecution. But prosecutors stuck to the terms of the plea agreement, and the judge sentenced Barry to three years' probation.
Paying the back taxes was a key condition. How much he owes has not been publicly disclosed. Barry was paid more than $530,000 in the period from 1999 through 2004.
D.C. Council members are paid $92,500 a year.
In its filing, the government notes Barry's stature as a public figure in the District. "A longtime elected official who has been responsible for spending public funds collected from District of Columbia taxpayers, the defendant chose not to file his own tax returns for six years," Cooper and Zeno write.
Staff writer Yolanda Woodlee contributed to this report.