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After numerous delays, DA Williams ‘ready’ for tax fraud trial

Published: Jun. 1, 2022 at 4:29 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Attorneys for Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams and his codefendant appeared in federal court Wednesday, “ready for trial.”

Williams’ team is preparing to defend their client and his law partner Nicole Burdett against federal tax fraud charges. Federal prosecutors say they intend to prove that Williams and Burdett conspired with Westwego tax preparer Henry Timothy in a scheme to inflate tax write-offs for Williams’ firm by about $700,000 over the course of five tax years (2013-17). Williams and Burdett also were charged with failing to report several large cash payments made by some of his firm’s clients. Burdett separately was charged with four additional counts of submitting fraudulent returns for her personal income taxes.

Timothy, the 70-year-old tax preparer, pleaded guilty in January 2021 to four counts of tax fraud and is expected to be the government’s star witness against Williams and Burdett.

Burdett, who recently attempted to launch a real estate career under the name Nicole Waguespack, was arrested again in April 2022 on unrelated new counts of government benefits fraud and filing or maintaining false public records.

New Orleans attorney Nicole Burdett, co-defendant in a tax fraud case against District Attorney...
New Orleans attorney Nicole Burdett, co-defendant in a tax fraud case against District Attorney Jason Williams, was arrested in Baton Rouge.(EBRSO)

After the closed-door session, Burdett’s attorney Mike Magner said the trial will likely move forward in July after numerous delays.

“Ready for trial,” Magner said with little elaboration outside the courthouse.

A pretrial hearing concerning testimony limitations from a defense witness was canceled Wednesday afternoon. Those issues will likely be decided immediately before the trial begins on July 18.

Williams would lose his law license and be removed from office if he is convicted.

In a previous court filing in the case, federal prosecutors said 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. The charges unfurled in the June 2020 indictment addressed only alleged crimes in the 2013-17 tax years.

But even since that indictment, Williams’ tax troubles have continued. Fox 8′s Lee Zurik was the first to report on May 18 that the IRS had just filed a new, unrelated tax lien against Williams’ property in an effort to collect unpaid income taxes from 2019.

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Earlier court filings reveal some of the evidence federal prosecutors hoped to put before a jury in July.

“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.

Williams has defiantly maintained his innocence.

He initially called the federal indictment the handiwork of “henchmen” of Leon Cannizzaro, the incumbent Orleans Parish District Attorney against whom Williams expected to run in the November 2020 election. Williams produced no evidence supporting that accusation, and Cannizzaro labeled the city councilman “delusional.”

In a later court filing seeking to have the charges dismissed, Williams asserted he was being selectively and vindictively prosecuted because of his standing as a prominent Black progressive politician running for DA to institute criminal justice reform. The late U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, who handled Williams’ case until dying of a heart attack in January 2022, denied that motion.

A small portion of New Orleans voters overlooked the 11-count indictment, handing Williams the keys to the DA’s office with a victory over former judge Keva Landrum in their December 2020 runoff election. Cannizzaro had decided six months earlier not to enter the race, uninterested in seeking a third term. Less than 27% of registered Orleans Parish voters turned out to cast a ballot in the Williams-Landrum race, but Williams and his supporters claimed a mandate from his receiving 41,564 votes to Landrum’s 30,325.

Since being sworn in as DA, Williams has faced criticism for contributing to the city’s rising crime rate by refusing felony cases brought by New Orleans police at a far higher rate than his predecessor, dismissing hundreds of inherited criminal cases, and allowing dozens more accused defendants back on the streets by failing to institute charges within prescribed time limits.

Though those so-called 701 releases have diminished, Williams also has faced the wrath of former supporters disappointed that he has reneged on campaign promises to not prosecute any juveniles in adult court and to not seek material witness warrants to compel court testimony.

If Williams is found guilty and removed from office, it is believed that First Assistant Ned McGowan will be designated to serve as interim District Attorney until a special election determines a successor to complete the remainder of Williams’ six-year term. Governor John Bel Edwards is required by the state constitution to proclaim the date of that special election.

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