Federal prosecutors ask to show jury details of lavish spending at DA Jason Williams’ tax fraud trial

Jason Williams, sworn in last January as the Orleans Parish District Attorney, is scheduled for...
Jason Williams, sworn in last January as the Orleans Parish District Attorney, is scheduled for trial next Jan. 24 on 11 counts related to federal tax fraud.
Published: Oct. 20, 2021 at 2:40 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams’ persistent defrauding of the federal government is apparent in annual spending records that do not jibe with the income he reported in several years of tax returns, federal prosecutors told a judge in a new court filing Tuesday (Oct. 20).

Prosecutors laid out what they described as an array of suspicious spending and dubious tax filings by Williams and associate Nicole Burdett, and asked they be allowed to show the evidence to jurors at their upcoming federal tax fraud trial, scheduled to begin Jan. 24.

“This evidence will show not only that the defendants were consistently spending more than what they reported in income each year, but also that they were spending their unaccounted-for income on luxury items,” the prosecutors wrote. “The government respectfully requests this court permit at trial evidence of the defendants’ spending habits during all pertinent tax years.”

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman is presiding over the case and is expected to rule on the government’s request in coming weeks.

Williams and Burdett each face an 11-count indictment alleging they conspired to falsify returns, hide undeclared cash payments and report nearly $800,000 in fraudulent business expenses for Williams’ criminal defense law firm between the tax years 2013-17. Burdett rose from Williams’ office manager to eventual law partner at Jason Rogers Williams and Associates.

The court filing says that Williams “has an extensive history with the IRS that spans nearly two decades,” and that by 2011 he owed more than $92,000 in outstanding taxes and penalties. That did not dissuade Williams from seeking more than $200,000 in tax liability relief by submitting falsified returns with the help of Burdett and tax return preparer Henry Timothy, prosecutors allege.

Timothy already has pleaded guilty in his own tax case, and is expected to be one of the government’s star witnesses in Williams’ trial.

Prosecutors alleged that Williams signed off on bogus tax returns in which Timothy misrepresented the attorney’s personal expenses -- including his residential mortgage, personal life insurance premiums and gym membership fees -- by making them appear to be business expenses to reduce tax liability.

“By falsely increasing his business expenses and reducing his tax liability, Williams was able to enjoy a lifestyle well above his reported income,” prosecutors wrote.

In 2014, for example, Williams paid more than $50,000 in mortgage expenses on two homes he owned, paid approximately $12,000 on car loans for a BMW and Range Rover, made more than $18,000 in life insurance payments and paid $15,000 toward student loans, the government said. In addition to those $95,000 of expenses, Williams withdrew or spent more than $45,000 from his Chase bank debit account, including at least $13,000 on “meals and entertainment.”

All told, Williams ran up at least $140,000 in personal expenses that year, while claiming income of only $85,000 in his tax return, the filing said.

“Williams’ personal expenses in tax years 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017 similarly exceeded his reported income for those years,” prosecutors wrote.

But things drastically changed in 2018, when Williams needed to show more substantial income to qualify for financing on a $1.4 million home he wanted to buy on St. Charles Avenue. That year, Williams switched from Timothy to a CPA firm to prepare his taxes.

“The return did not include any of the fraudulent business expenses that Williams reported in his prior tax returns, and reflected a total income of $544,945,” prosecutors wrote. “This was hundreds of thousands of dollars more than what Williams previously reported in income.”

The filing said Burdett -- who faces a separate tax fraud indictment on her own personal filings -- used similar tactics to enjoy a more luxurious lifestyle.

The document says Burdett and her husband reported joint income of about $91,000 in 2014 but had more than $100,000 in personal expenses that year, including multiple vacations to destinations that included St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida and Tennessee.

The couple’s expenses similarly exceeded their declared income in tax years 2015-17, while they spent at least $15,000 per year on trips to Cancun, the Bahamas, Las Vegas, New York and other destinations. The couple also installed a $60,000 swimming pool for when they were stuck at home, prosecutors wrote.

Williams and Burdett were indicted in June 2020, one month before Williams -- then the City Council president -- qualified for that winter’s district attorney’s race. Despite the indictment, Williams defeated Keva Landrum in a December runoff and was sworn in as the city’s DA nine months ago. Each has pleaded not guilty, and Williams initially blamed the investigation and charges against him on former district attorney Leon Cannizzaro. He produced no evidence to substantiate the claim.

In a separate filing, the government asked Feldman to prevent Williams and Burdett or their attorneys from claiming at trial that they are victims of a selective, politically motivated prosecution. Feldman already refused last year to toss the charges over that claim.

Feldman also ruled Williams would be heavily restricted on what type of “good conduct,” awards or character witnesses he would be allowed to introduce at trial.

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