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Not Guilty: Jury clears DA Jason Williams on all counts in tax fraud trial

The jury deliberated for 16 hours over the last three days.

NEW ORLEANS — A federal jury has ruled that New Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams is not guilty on all counts in his federal tax fraud trial.

Williams co-defendant, Nicole Burdett, was found guilty of four separate counts for falsifying her own taxes. Her sentencing is set for Sept. 30.

"Although we may not always agree with the jury we respect the work that they've done in this case," Brandon Brown, US Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, said.  "We're going to defer all of the comments until Ms. Burdett's sentencing."

Williams and Burdett, an attorney in his law practice were accused in an indictment of conspiring to cheat on Williams’ taxes during a five-year period ending in 2017. Prosecutors said Williams' tax burden was illegally cut by $200,000.

They each faced a count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, five counts involving preparation of fraudulent returns and four counts of failing to file forms regarding large cash transactions.

In addition to a possible prison sentence, Williams faced automatic suspension from his elective post if convicted of a felony, under state law.

Prosecutors rested their case Tuesday morning, a week after the trial began. Jurors heard from prosecution witnesses including the tax preparer, Henry Timothy, who was cooperating with prosecutors after pleading guilty to a single tax charge. The defense rested Tuesday morning as well, without calling witnesses.

During closing arguments, defense attorney Mike Magner pointed to Timothy as the man who bears responsibility. 

Calling him a "bad guy" and even a "sociopath", Magner told jurors Timothy is to blame for what prosecutors say is more than $760,000 in illegal expenses, like clothing and music services that Williams filed on his law firm's tax returns.

Williams has long contended that the prosecution was politically motivated. Defense attorneys have portrayed Timothy as a fraud while attacking his credibility, and questioned why others whose taxes were prepared by Timothy weren't criminally prosecuted. 

Lead prosecutor Kelly Uebinger told jurors there's no way Williams or Burdett knew nothing about what Timothy was doing.  

"Mr. Timothy didn't do these things without their knowledge year after year. They knew who they were dealing with, that's why they picked him,” said Uebinger.  

Williams was a criminal defense lawyer and member of the New Orleans City Council before he became district attorney. On the council, he was a frequent critic of the hardball prosecution methods of his predecessor, Leon Cannizzaro.

Federal authorities had already filed the tax charges against Williams when he signed up to run for Cannizzaro's seat in July 2020. Cannizzaro opted not run for a third term and Williams was the eventual victor in a field that included two city judges. 

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell weighed in on the verdict, saying she was grateful for the thought and consideration the jury put into their ruling.

"“We are grateful for their service to our city," she said. "With this verdict on a personal matter now rendered, the City looks forward to the District Attorney returning his focus to the residents of the City of New Orleans and their public safety.”

    

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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