Richard Hatch, the first-season winner of the CBS hit reality show Survivor, said he did not cheat on his taxes and thought the network had to pay the government a share of his $1 million winnings. Hatch, a motivational speaker, said on Friday he is innocent, one week after he pulled out of a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to tax fraud.
In television and radio interviews aired on Friday, Hatch's lawyer said CBS should have withheld federal taxes for the game show contestant because the network should have classified him as an employee under California law. The two said Hatch was confused about his obligations and said his case was being publicized now because Americans are in the process of preparing their tax returns for an April 15 deadline. CBS, a unit of Viacom, said Hatch alone was responsible for declaring his winnings to the federal government and paying his taxes. "Richard Hatch was well aware of his obligation to pay taxes on his Survivor prize money. His argument against CBS wouldn't hold up in tribal council, much less court," CBS spokesman Chris Ender said in an e-mail.
Hatch, an openly gay Rhode Island resident who has been called a cunning competitor by fellow contestants, was charged with tax evasion in January for failing to declare the prize money he won in 2000 and more than $300,000 he earned the following year from radio appearances. Those charges carry a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. The U.S. attorney in Rhode Island moved the case to a grand jury.