Prosecutors Want Barry Jailed Over Tax Returns

Marion Barry attends a D.C. City Council session in December.
Marion Barry attends a D.C. City Council session in December. (Bill O'Leary - Post)
By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

For the second time in two years, frustrated federal prosecutors took aim at Marion Barry's chronic failure to file his tax returns and urged a judge to put him in jail.

The move by authorities is the latest act in a long-running tug of war between authorities and the D.C. Council member over his tax status. In all, prosecutors say, Barry has failed to file his returns on time in eight of the past nine years.

Yesterday, they urged a federal judge to revoke Barry's probation for tax offenses just weeks before it expires.

Barry, 72, in the past has called such legal efforts "frivolous" and has said his tax problems are a "personal matter."

But prosecutors, who failed in a similar effort to have Barry jailed two years ago, don't see it that way.

"The defendant's conduct regarding tax year 2007 is indefensible," wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas A. Zeno in a motion filed in U.S. District Court. "It is not acceptable for any citizen to shirk a basic civil duty, let alone a former mayor and current city councilman who has been responsible in the past and continues to be responsible for spending public funds collected from District of Columbia taxpayers."

Barry's office issued a statement last night saying he hasn't seen the prosecutor's motion. "I don't have any idea as to what the motion says," he said. "I'm busy doing my work on the Council helping people get jobs and find affordable housing."

Legal experts said Barry (D-Ward 8) is in serious legal jeopardy this time around, especially because the judge let him off the hook in 2007 under similar circumstances.

"He puts the judge in a very difficult spot," said David Schertler, a former federal prosecutor. "Many judges are willing to give a defendant a chance if there is a question about it being a misunderstanding. But it would be hard to argue that now. It's amazing, really. It's hard to know what [Barry] is thinking."

Schertler said Barry could expect to be sentenced to several months in jail. He might earn some leniency if he files his returns in the next few days, Schertler said.

If U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson does not send Barry to jail, Zeno requested she hold a hearing during which Barry could explain his conduct.

Prosecutors might request a two-year extension of the council member's probation if he does not get jail time, Zeno wrote.

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