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Attorney for Jason Williams' partner says government used 'dirty tricks'

Mike Magner has requested that U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, who presided over the jury trial, render what’s known as a “judgment notwithstanding the verdict.”

NEW ORLEANS — A former federal prosecutor is accusing the feds of using “dirty tricks” to convict his client Nicole Burdett of tax fraud, while failing to prove their case against Burdett’s former law partner, Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Magner was Burdett’s defense attorney in the government’s tax fraud case against Burdett and Williams.

A jury found Williams and Burdett not guilty Thursday on all 10 counts of conspiracy and tax fraud that they faced together, which were related to business expenses and income on Williams’ personal income taxes. But the same jury found Burdett guilty on four separate counts of tax fraud related to business expenses claimed on her own personal taxes.

Evidence at trial showed the same tax preparer, Henry Timothy, handled both Williams’ and Burdett’s tax returns. The government’s charges against the pair were handled together in a single trial. The government acknowledged that Timothy had cheated on his own taxes, but argued Williams and Burdett went to him precisely because he would reduce their taxes by hundreds of thousands of dollars with illegal deductions.

The defendants argued they were not aware of the improper business expenses Timothy was claiming on their behalf on their personal tax returns. Magner pointedly called Timothy a “sociopath” several times during his closing arguments.

But more importantly, Magner said the jury heard no evidence that could have justified handing down different verdicts.

“The taxes were handled the exact same way for Nicole that they were for Jason,” Magner said. “And the tax preparer, Timothy, also said that, for what he called the later years, which were I think 2015, 16 and 17, he had no real contact with Nicole at all concerning the substance of the tax returns. So, this is stuff that he was doing on his own.”

Magner also presented a target letter the lead prosecutor on the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Uebinger, sent to him in 2019 after Burdett refused to take immunity to testify against Williams. It says her refusal to take the immunity offer would mean they would now be looking at her tax returns. Magner said it proves the government went after her maliciously because their real target was Williams.

“When they dangled immunity to her, it was pretty clear to us that they really wanted her to change her story and sing from their sheet of music. And she was just not willing to do that,” Magner said. “The judge is very skeptical of the government's conduct. And we think he will really look at it with a cold, hard eye in terms of weighing that with the real lack of evidence against any kind of criminal intent on the part of Nicole.”

Magner has requested that U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, who presided over the jury trial, render what’s known as a “judgment notwithstanding the verdict.” It’s essentially a request for Africk to overrule the jury. Africk is giving Magner until Aug. 8 to file written arguments to back up the request.

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