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Original 'Survivor' champ Richard Hatch says he's victim of "witch hunt"


By Christopher Rocchio, 10/27/2009 

Richard Hatch claims that his original tax eviction conviction and his most-recent stint behind bars for conducting unauthorized media interviews were both the result of a "witch hunt."

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"I think it's a bigger picture issue. I don't think too many people now have any question that this has been a witch hunt and that it continues, for me to have been put in jail for talking -- for giving an interview that I had permission to do," the original Survivor winner told Today anchor Matt Lauer during a Tuesday morning interview.

Hatch was released from Barnstable County jail in Bourne, MA earlier this month after completing his 51-month federal sentence for failing to pay taxes on the $1 million prize he received for winning Survivor's first season in 2000. 

While he initially began serving the final few months of his sentence on home confinement over the summer, he was arrested on August 18 -- a day after he participated in several media interviews that his lawyer later claimed the Federal Bureau of Prison had not given him permission to conduct.

Although Hatch had received permission to tape an interview with NBC's Today, the bureau claimed it had not given him permission to conduct two additional interviews with NBC's Access Hollywood syndicated entertainment news program and the network's WJAR-TV affiliate in Providence, RI.

In addition to the unapproved television interviews, Hatch also called into a Rhode Island talk radio program twice after the Today interview aired -- which he also did not receive permission for.

"That's the facade. Absolutely we had permission," Hatch told Lauer.

"We got permission to do the interviews. All the networks requested permission to interview. The Bureau of Prisons told me to select one, I selected NBC. The Bureau of Prisons never talked with me or my supervisors about it. But they've been trying to muzzle me for three-and-a-half years. There was nothing about my being arrested other than their not wanting me to talk. Period."

Hatch claims he was taken to Barnstable County jail in his "boxers" before being held in solitary confinement -- which he described as a "tiny, cement, square" with "food and blood on the ceiling," "ejaculate on the walls" and "kill a fag" etched onto the back of the steel door.

"It's an awful place to be," said Hatch.

"It was bad. This was the worst time of my time in prison. It's bad enough being innocent and in prison, but in solitary confinement for no reason without anyone telling me how long I'd be there, without anyone talking about why I was in solitary confinement? It was very difficult."

However Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings told Fox's WPRI-TV affiliate in Providence that Hatch was not held in solitary confinement and even inspected the cell himself to make sure it was clean before he stayed in it.

In addition, Cummings contends the only reason Hatch was taken to the jail in his boxers is because he refused to get dressed.

"[Hatch is] a stranger to the truth," Cummings told WPRI.

Although Cummings' comments came after Hatch's Today show interview aired, the Survivor champ seemed to anticipate that his accusations would be refuted.

"I'm sure they said it's this kind of segregation -- they have all kinds of words for the different places that they put people," he told Lauer. "I was in solitary confinement. That's what anybody would call it, that's what it was."

The American Civil Liberties Union requested a federal judge release Hatch from prison during a September hearing -- arguing that Hatch was arrested due to retaliation for criticizing the government during the media interviews, in which he claimed he was discriminated against by the trial judge during his 2006 tax evasion conviction because he's gay.

"Do you think as you sit here today that it was because of those comments that you were rearrested?" Lauer asked Hatch.

"I do, partially," answered Hatch, who heaped praise on the ACLU for their efforts.

"They're amazing. These people are effective lawyers. They're really out there to help people who are faced with wrongs like this."

Despite pleas that he be released, a judge ruled that Hatch had violated Federal Bureau of Prisons' rules when he participated in the unapproved media interviews and denied the request.

"We got in front of a judge and the U.S. attorney told the judge that I was imprisoned because it was a security issue," Hatch told Lauer.

"They needed to know, Matt, whether you came with guns or drugs or something like that [during your August interview]. Did they ask you about that? No. They didn't even know who lived on that property [where the interview took place]. There were five apartments. They never asked me who has come to visit me ever. This is a facade. This is part of what happens when the bureaucrats are unchecked."

Hatch reiterated that his arrest was part of a "bigger issue."

"People are abused by the system and I think I can help. I've already been in jail for over three-and-a-half years and I've done nothing," he claimed. "To this day -- nine years later -- I still don't have a tax bill, don't owe a penny."

The 48-year-old Hatch is currently serving three years of supervised release and will not be able to leave Rhode Island without permission. In addition, he must also check in regularly with his probation officer, find a job, complete a mental health program, and refile his 2000 and 2001 tax returns and pay all his back taxes.

"My accountants and I fully cooperated with the IRS and they do tell us that there will be an assessment of those years soon," Hatch told Lauer. "We'll work with them. We have another meeting with them on November 2."

"Are you ready to throw in the towel?" Lauer asked Hatch.

"Not a chance," he replied, explaining he did Tuesday's Today interview on "principle" and is unsure if what he said during it could land him in trouble.

"I don't know if I'm at risk. I have permission to be here verbally. I'm here looking for work."

As for potential job opportunities, Hatch decided to stay mum on what he has in the works.

"I'm looking for a number of things. I have a number of ideas and I'd rather not talk publicly about what's happening because I don't know what will come of them," he said.

"Survivor" winner Richard Hatch says he's the victim of a "witch hunt" by federal prosecutors.

Hatch completed a tax evasion sentence earlier this month. He complained to NBC's "Today" show Tuesday that he was taken from his sister's apartment while wearing boxer shorts in August and held in solitary confinement for 30 days after granting TV interviews without permission.

(Photo credit CBS)


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