Jury of 9 women, 3 men hears opening statements in Orleans DA Jason Williams’ federal tax fraud trial
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A panel of 12 jurors and four alternates was sworn in Tuesday (July 19) for the highly-anticipated tax fraud trial of Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams.
The jury of nine women and three men heard opening statements late in the afternoon in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Lance M. Africk.
“There are only two people on trial here this week, and that is Mr. Williams and Ms. Burdett,” said U.S. Attorney Kelly Uebinger. “There will only be two names on the top of the verdict form.”
Williams and co-defendant Nicole Burdett Waguespack are accused of defrauding the U.S. government of more than $200,000 in taxes owed by the Jason Rogers Williams and Associates law firm. A guilty verdict on any of the 10 counts they face would force Williams out of the DA’s office, strip the defendants of their Louisiana law licenses and expose them to potential federal prison sentences.
Federal investigators and prosecutors said the pair deliberately conspired with Henry Timothy, a Westwego tax preparer who already has pleaded guilty to tax charges, to inflate business expenses of Williams’ firm by more than $700,000 and save further tax liability by failing to properly report to the Internal Revenue Service several large cash payments received by clients during the years 2013-17, when Williams sat on the New Orleans City Council.
The defense plans to argue that Williams and Burdett had no idea they were breaking the law, that the two never knowingly engaged in conspiracy. They also will attempt to discredit Timothy as a witness.
“Mr. Timothy is not some dumb, sorry, sad sack of a guy like the government is going to try and make you feel,” Lisa Wayne, one of Williams’ attorneys, told the jury. “He’s been working with numbers in accounting for years. He knew exactly what he was doing.”
The trial is expected to last about two weeks. Jury selection began Monday with a panel of 94 prospective jurors from several Southeastern Louisiana parishes filling the courtroom and being questioned by attorneys individually in private.
“The defense is going to say we just got the stuff together, gave it to him and he was the guy who did everything. We didn’t have any intent to deceive,” said FOX 8 Legal Analyst Joe Raspanti. “They’ve got to make this gentleman bad and wrong. That’s their whole case. If they cannot undermine him, they don’t win.”
The list of potential witnesses is long for the case, but testimony is expected to be heard from the tax preparer Timothy, the defendants’ former law partner Robert Hjortsberg and Williams’ ex-wife Bridget Barthelemy, daughter of former New Orleans mayor Sidney Barthelemy.
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