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The accountant for gay Survivor winner Richard Hatch, who has been charged in federal court with failing to pay taxes on his $1 million winnings and other income, can't testify about Hatch's accounting abilities or other tax problems that can result from a sudden change in income, a judge said Wednesday. Daniel Urso was expected to testify for the defense in Hatch's upcoming trial that the reality show winner had poor bookkeeping abilities and was not good at keeping track of his expenses.
Hatch's attorney, John MacDonald, said the subject was important to the case since the government needs to prove that Hatch deliberately shirked his tax obligations. "It goes ultimately for a jury to decide the issue of willfulness," MacDonald said.
Hatch has pleaded innocent to charges of tax evasion, filing a false tax return, wire fraud, bank fraud, and mail fraud. But federal prosecutors said the question for the jury will be simply whether Hatch knowingly filed false tax returns, and they argued in U.S. district court in Providence that Urso shouldn't be called as an expert witness. "What may or may not be his accounting or bookkeeping abilities is really irrelevant to that question," said assistant U.S. attorney Lee Vilker.
U.S. district judge Ernest Torres agreed with prosecutors, saying the case was not about bookkeeping. But Torres denied prosecutors' request to prevent Urso from testifying that the 2000 and 2001 tax returns filed by Hatch were incorrectly prepared by his accountant at the time or that Hatch had been working to fix his tax problems by filing amended returns for those years.
Urso, a longtime accountant who has prepared thousands of personal tax returns, has reviewed Hatch's 2000 and 2001 returns but was not his accountant at the time. He has worked with Hatch to prepare corrected returns for those two years but has been stymied by a lack of cooperation from Hatch's prior accountant, lawyers said.
Jury selection in the trial was scheduled for Tuesday. Besides the Survivor winnings, Hatch is also accused of omitting $327,000 he was paid to cohost a radio show and $28,000 in rent on a property he owns in Newport from his 2000 and 2001 tax returns. He is also accused of misusing $36,500 in donations to his charity, Horizon Bound, to cover personal expenses. (Eric Tucker, AP)