Federal judge bars Jason Williams from claiming before jury that tax fraud charges were politically or racially motivated

Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams and law firm partner Nicole Burdett face trial...
Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams and law firm partner Nicole Burdett face trial July 18 on 11 felony counts related to federal tax fraud.
Published: Jun. 7, 2022 at 10:33 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - When Jason Williams faces a federal jury next month to defend himself against 11 felony counts related to tax fraud, he will not be allowed to resurrect debunked claims that the government indicted him out of political or racial animus, new court documents show.

U.S. District Court Judge Lance M. Africk last week barred Williams’ defense team from raising such arguments before the jury at the upcoming trial, scheduled to begin July 18. The ruling was included in the newly published minute entry detailing the final pre-trial conference between attorneys, held behind closed doors in the judge’s chambers last Wednesday (June 1).

Africk granted without opposition a motion filed by federal prosecutors last October to keep claims by Williams and co-defendant Nicole Burdett of a selective or vindictive prosecution out of the trial. Williams had alleged in previous court filings that the June 2020 indictment against him should be dismissed, insisting federal prosecutors came after him either because he was running for Orleans Parish District Attorney or because he was Black.

Those claims and the accompanying motions to dismiss the case already had been rejected by U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, to whom the case previously was assigned. Feldman died of a heart attack in January 2022, and the case was randomly allotted to Africk’s court.

“All of defendants’ motions to dismiss have been adjudicated,” federal prosecutors from the Western District of Louisiana wrote in their argument. “However, the government anticipates the defendants may attempt to introduce evidence and adduce testimony at trial concerning the grounds for dismissal asserted in those motions. ... This court should exclude any arguments pertaining to the alleged selective or vindictive prosecution of defendants, because they do not pertain to the merits of the charges in this tax case.

“The government expects that defendants will attempt to reassert these arguments in an effort to sensationalize the case and distract from the ultimate question of their guilt or innocence. ... Defendants’ issues with the investigation and decision to prosecute are not proper for the jury.”

Africk agreed, and his decision to bar such argument or testimony from the trial narrows the scope of what Williams’ and Burdett’s attorneys can present to the jury.

Williams and Burdett are accused of conspiring with Westwego tax preparer Henry Timothy to inflate business expenses of the Jason Rogers Williams and Associates law firm by more than $700,000 and of failing to report large cash payments by some clients, in order to defraud the U.S. government of more than $200,000 in owed taxes between 2013-17. Timothy has already pleaded guilty in connection to the alleged scheme and is expected to testify against Williams and Burdett.

The pretrial conference also set ground rules for the trial, which is expected to last two weeks.

The government will be allotted 45 minutes for its opening statements, while the attorneys for Williams (Billy Gibbens and Lisa Wayne) and Burdett (Michael Magner and Avery Pardee) will share 60 minutes for theirs. The trial will begin each day at 8 a.m., and witnesses being called to testify must be disclosed by 5 p.m. the previous day.

The trial could spell the end of Williams’ tenure as the parish DA. Conviction on even one of the 11 felony counts he faces would be cause for Williams to lose his license to practice law in Louisiana and be unseated from office.

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