By Hamil R. Harris and Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, March 28, 2009; B01
D.C. Council member Marion Barry said yesterday that two-thirds of his $277,000 federal tax debt consists of interest and penalties and that he plans to make a payment on his 2007 D.C. tax bill Monday.
The former mayor said in a telephone interview that he took responsibility for his behavior but that federal prosecutors are being unfair in asking a judge to revoke his probation for tax offenses. Federal prosecutors say Barry (D-Ward 8) has failed to file his tax returns on time in eight of the past nine years.
"I just wish that the U.S. attorney will tell the truth," Barry said. "They keep saying that I haven't paid my taxes, but I am contributing to my tax bill every month. I take full responsibility for the past, but I have met every condition of my probation as it relates to taxes."
Based on court filings, it appears Barry has paid more than $70,000 of the amount that had been assessed through deductions from his salary.
Barry was reacting yesterday to a court filing Thursday in which federal prosecutors said the mayor still owes the federal government $277,688.05 in back taxes, interest and penalties. Federal prosecutors asked a judge last month to revoke Barry's probation for tax offenses because he did not file his 2007 federal or D.C. returns in a timely manner. A hearing has been set for April 16 in the District's federal court.
Barry filed the returns after prosecutors sought to revoke his probation. His federal return indicates that he owes $6,512 in taxes for 2007, an IRS agent wrote in an affidavit.
Barry said he plans to give city officials a check Monday for $4,250 in back taxes.
He also said that he had agreed to pay the District $350 a month but that he stopped paying after he got into a "dispute" with District tax collectors.
"They had lost the records," he said. "I went back and forth, back and forth. Our position was that until we get it straight I would not pay. I take the position that just because I am a council member, I shouldn't lose my rights as a taxpayer."
Barry pleaded guilty in 2005 to not filing D.C. or federal returns from 1999 through 2004 or paying the bulk of taxes owed on more than $500,000 he earned as a consultant over those six years, when he was not in public office.
Two federal tax liens filed against Barry in the District in 2006 show that he once owed $343,206 in back taxes, penalties and interest. The IRS has been garnishing $1,350 from his salary every two weeks since late 2006, according to Thursday's court filings.
Barry said in a statement Thursday that prosecutors had broken the law by disclosing the specifics of what he owes, but they are permitted to do so in criminal cases, especially when they are trying to show a defendant has engaged in a pattern of unlawful behavior.
However, outside and tax specialists said yesterday that it is unusual and unnecessary to disclose the size of Barry's tax debt.
"The government can make its case without gratuitous references to what Mr. Barry owes," said Steven Levin, a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor in Maryland who specialized in white-collar cases.
Prosecutors did not state Barry's D.C. tax bill in public versions of the court papers because the District apparently has stricter non-disclosure rules.
David B. Irwin, a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, said prosecutors are probably frustrated with the drawn-out court proceedings over Barry.
"The prosecutors are at the end of their rope, and they are throwing in everything and the kitchen sink," Irwin said.
Andrew C. White, another former federal prosecutor, said authorities justifiably disclosed Barry's debt to show the seriousness of his offense. "With the budget issues we are facing right now, they are trying to show that this is an absolute affront to hardworking taxpayers," White said.
Outside tax experts said it would be hard for Barry to negotiate a reduction in his tax debt with the IRS because he makes a good salary, $125,583, as a D.C. Council member.
B.J. Haynes, a lawyer and former IRS agent in Burke who specializes in tax issues, said Barry faces long odds in reducing his debt because the case is so high profile.
Barry faces another risk, Haynes added: Negotiations with the IRS could result in him paying more.
Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.