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Councilman Williams wants tax charges dismissed; Prosecutors say crimes 'extensive'

Attorneys for Williams and Burdett laid out several reasons why the case should be dismissed.

NEW ORLEANS — In a video court hearing in which the attorney for New Orleans Council President Jason Williams argued to have to have his 11-count federal tax fraud indictment dismissed, the lead federal prosecutor came back hard, calling Williams’ alleged crimes “extensive.” 

“Mr. Williams committed federal crimes for over five years and it was extensive,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Uebinger said.

Williams and Nicole Burdett, an associate in his law firm, each face charges of  conspiracy, five counts of failing to report cash payments from clients, and five counts of submitting false tax returns by inflating business expenses by more than $700,000.

Attorneys for Williams and Burdett laid out several reasons why the case should be dismissed: they were politically motivated, they could have been handled civilly rather than criminally, and that due to the coronavirus pandemic, minorities were underrepresented on the grand jury that returned the June indictment.  

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“There’s a clear pattern of overzealousness.” Burdett’s attorney Mike Magner said.

The contention that the charges were politically motivated stemmed from Williams’ campaign for district attorney and public war of words with the outgoing incumbent, Leon Cannizzaro.

Uebinger was quick to point out that while Williams qualified for the race, Cannizzaro decided not to run for re-election. She added that the IRS examination of Williams’ taxes came well before he announced his intentions to run for DA.

The prosecutor, brought in from Lafayette after the New Orleans-based U.S. Attorney’s office recused itself, said Williams was subject to three federal liens prior to any criminal investigation.

The government says Williams’ tax problems eventually crossed the line into criminal behavior, allegedly when he directed his tax preparer, Henry “Bubba” Timothy, to falsify tax returns by using improper deductions. Those deductions reduced Williams’ tax liability by more than $200,000, prosecutors claim.

“This is about someone who committed a bunch of crimes over a bunch of years,” Uebinger said. 

While Williams and Burdett jointly filed the motion to dismiss the charges and presented a united front in the virtual court hearing, Magner staked out a different posture on the charges themselves, declaring, “I don’t mean to be boastful here, but we very much think we’re going to win. We have a very strong case here.” 

Gibbens did not tackle the allegations head-on except to point out that his clients’ tax problems should have been handled through an audit. 

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman did not rule immediately, taking the motion under advisement.