For tax bloggers like myself, Richard Hatch has been a godsend. His antics have been, well, remarkable. While he’s no longer at the top of my Bozo Tax Tips, his story is one that prospective tax offenders should learn. I keep thinking that I’ll be able to drop this Bozo tax tip one year. Yet every time I think that’s going to happen Richard Hatch makes the news again. One tip I can give any celebrity: Be careful about your taxes. The IRS loves going after Bozo tax celebrities. So here’s the story that refuses to die.
For a tax blogger, people like Richard Hatch are wonderful. Hatch, for those who don’t remember, was the winner of the first Survivor and won $1 million. About 300 million individuals worldwide saw Hatch take down the $1 million.
Hatch received a Form 1099-MISC for his winnings. In the United States, winnings from contests are taxable. Hatch claims that CBS and/or the producers of Survivor promised him that they would pay his taxes. (Both CBS and the producers of Survivor deny this charge.)
Here’s what I wrote back in January 2006 when Hatch was convicted:
Mr. Hatch has cemented a place in the Bozo Tax Criminals Hall of Fame (a website I’ll create one day). Let’s look at his
stupid not so good actions.
1. Hatch goes to accountant #1, find out that he owes over $300,000 in taxes. He goes to accountant #2, and the tax bill is around $240,000. (At his level of income, some differences in taxes owed is normal.) He then asks accountant #2 what his return would be if he didn’t declare the $1 million in Survivor winnings. Accountant #2 makes Hatch sign a statement that he won’t file that return (it showed Hatch getting a $4300 refund). He filed that return.
2. The IRS amazingly discovers his tax evasion. (With perhaps 300 million witnesses, even the most inept attorney could prove he won $1 million.) He’s offered a plea bargain: pay your taxes, and we’ll let you off fairly easily on the jail time. He accepts the plea initially, then changes his mind.
3. The case goes to trial. Hatch claims that CBS should have withheld taxes. His attorney might want to ask any seasoned accountant about what you should do if taxes aren’t withheld but should have been. (Answer: you pay the taxes.)
4. Hatch’s attorney can’t find the OJ Simpson jury. (Hat tip: Roth Tax Updates)
5. Hatch is found guilty. Roth Tax Updates speculates that his sentence will be around 3 years in jail. Oh, he’ll also have to pay those taxes, and interest and penalties. The maximum possible sentence is 13 years in prison and a fine of $600,000.
Hatch is now serving his prison sentence of 51 months. He recently appealed his conviction, though chances of it being overturned seem slim.
2008 Update: And they were slim. Last February, Hatch’s appeal was denied. As you might expect, 300 million witnesses can’t be wrong.
2009 Update: Richard Hatch continues to look for that needle in the haystack. He’s filed another appeal, though to this non-lawyer it’s more likely that he’ll be released after serving his 51 months at ClubFed than getting a favorable ruling.
2010 Update: Mr. Hatch was released in mid-2009. He then violated the terms of his release and was sent back to ClubFed. Finally, in October, Mr. Hatch was released. He’ll be spending the next couple of years in his home state of Rhode Island.
2011 Update: As part of his sentence, Mr. Hatch was supposed to amend his tax returns and declare the $1 million of income. He neglected to do that. Judge William Smith didn’t neglect to give Mr. Hatch a piece of his mind this past March: He sentenced Mr. Hatch to nine more months at ClubFed. Following his release from ClubFed (in December), Mr. Hatch will have 26 months of supervised release.
2012 Non-Update: Mr. Hatch was released from prison in late December 2011. He has filed a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court. The chance of the Supreme Court taking his case is about the same as a blizzard in August in Las Vegas. The writ was denied.
2013 Update: Mr. Hatch’s non-payment of taxes extends north of the border. Mr. Hatch owned a piece of property in Sydney, Nova Scotia. That property was sold in a tax sale after Mr. Hatch didn’t pay the property taxes on it for at least six years.
2014 Update: Mr. Hatch still thinks he did nothing wrong. Last year, on Oprah: Where Are They Now, Hatch told Oprah Winfrey, I never did anything deserving of prison time…I never attempted to evade taxes, which was what I was convicted of.” I’ll let the reader decide on the veracity of Mr. Hatch’s statement.
Judge Smith’s remarks from over two years ago have not yet sunk in to Mr. Hatch. “You can continue to proclaim your innocence…You don’t have the option of engaging in this type of game or negotiation with the court. It needs to be a severe punishment. That’s the only thing that will deter you in the future.”
And to think I’d have so little to write about if Mr. Hatch had just paid his $300,000 in tax in the first place.