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High-Profile Lawyer Sentenced for Taxes

  Legal Business  -   POSTED: 2007/11/27 16:03

A civil rights lawyer known for his high-profile cases against police and President Bush was sentenced Tuesday to three years in prison for federal tax evasion, bankruptcy fraud and money laundering.

Stephen Yagman, 63, was convicted of trying to avoid paying more than $100,000 in federal income taxes while living what prosecutors said was a lavish lifestyle that included shopping sprees and Aspen vacations.

Yagman told U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson that he was "a target" for prosecutors because of his legal campaigns against police.

In a statement spanning two days at the end of his sentencing hearing, Yagman argued that his problems stemmed from careless inattention.

"I am kind of a savant, focused on civil rights," Yagman said Monday. "I got sloppy."

Wilson said he had known Yagman professionally for 20 years and called him brave for taking on the establishment — but he also said Yagman committed his crimes knowingly. He ordered Yagman to surrender Jan. 15, serve two years of supervised release after his prison term and pay the costs of his prosecution.

Prosecutors had asked for a nine-year minimum prison sentence.

"The fact that the defendant is a lawyer is an aggravating factor," federal prosecutor Alka Sagar said Monday. "He of all people knew the implications of his conduct."

Defense attorney Barry Tarlow said he would appeal Yagman's conviction.

Yagman led high-profile legal campaigns against police, and over several years filed dozens of lawsuits claiming that Los Angeles police abused and framed suspects and made false arrests.

He also sued President Bush and other officials, alleging violations of constitutional rights of a detainee at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and sought class-action status on behalf of all detainees.

Yagman filed for bankruptcy in 1999, but prosecutors said he failed to disclose that he lived in a 2,800-square-foot home near the beach. He had, however, made mortgage and property tax payments on the property and claimed the homeowner's mortgage-interest deduction on his tax returns.

The government argued that Yagman paid only a fraction of his income taxes from 1994 to 1997, eventually owing the IRS more than $158,000 in back taxes, interest and penalties. Prosecutors also alleged he failed to pay $30,000 in payroll taxes that his law firm owed during that period and claimed he hid about $617,000 he received from his mother and elderly relatives from the IRS.

Yagman also tried to hide $70,000 in assets to avoid paying out a civil judgment awarded against him and his firm in 1996, prosecutors said.


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