Original 'Survivor' Richard Hatch's appeal granted oral agruments
By Christopher Rocchio, 01/29/2007
Richard Hatch will get another chance to prove his innocence on charges he evaded paying taxes on the $1 million he received for being the original Survivor. After reviewing written briefs from Hatch's lawyer and federal prosecutors last week, appeals judges granted the Survivor: Borneo winner an oral hearing to argue his case, The Providence Journal reported on Sunday.
"I am deeply grateful that they have decided to hear us," Michael Minns, Hatch's Texas lawyer, told The Journal. "I expected them to do it because these are serious, important constitutional issues." Added U.S. Attorney's office spokesman Thomas Connell, "There's nothing unusual about this at all. Oral arguments are a standard part of the appellate process."
A jury convicted Hatch of tax evasion last January in U.S. District Court, and the 45-year-old Newport, RI resident is currently serving a 51-month sentence at a minimum-security prison camp in Morgantown, WV. At his trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Hatch "intentionally avoided" paying taxes on income from Survivor, a stint as a radio-show host, celebrity appearances and rental property.
When Hatch testified at his trial on his own behalf, he blamed his tax problems on "inept bookkeeping" as well as "the poor advice of accountants," which Judge Ernest C. Torres called "preposterous," giving Hatch the toughest sentence allowed -- another aspect of his case Hatch plans to appeal.
Earlier this month, Minns asserted Torres prevented him from exploring the fact that Hatch thought CBS would pay for the taxes on his winnings and prosecutors prohibited Minns from delving into the rules of the reality series. However they did make it clear that questions about the details of any tax deal made between producers and Hatch and Minns' claims that Hatch had caught some of the other contestants cheating (an allegation Hatch later failed to mention when he testified on the stand) would be allowed. But in a reply brief filed on Saturday, Minns argued that was "inadequate."
"Standing alone, it must have appeared unreasonable, even ridiculous, and certainly untrue, that Hatch believed someone else paid his taxes," Minns wrote in the brief. "How absurd, that Hatch would think he didn't owe taxes on his $1 million! But, given the opportunity to explain why, in the first place, Hatch had the idea that his taxes would be paid -- a behind-the-scenes deception on the Survivor show tantamount to an attempt to rig the contest, and a subsequent agreement proposed by [Survivor creator Mark] Burnett -- and Hatch's belief would have appeared more reasonable and truthful to the jury."
As for Torres' decision to lengthen Hatch's sentence, Minns also said testimony the judge relied upon in determining Hatch had obstructed justice related to fraud counts for which Hatch was acquitted. Wrote Minns in the brief, "The jury never made the findings the court relied on to enhance Hatch's sentence."
The oral appeals hearing will allow 20 minutes for both Minns and federal prosecutors and it is currently scheduled for Thursday, March 8, The Journal reported.