Bel Air attorney Lester V. Jones routinely pocketed thousands of dollars in legal fees he collected from clients and associates, and spent the money on condos and expensive cars, a federal prosecutor charged as Jones went on trial on federal charges of tax evasion.
Prosecutor Joseph L. Evans accused Jones not only of cheating on his income taxes in the mid-1980s, but also of cheating on amended tax returns he filed to defend himself against the IRS investigation that eventually led to his criminal indictment.
But defense attorney Stephen H. Sachs blamed Jones' tax preparer for under-reporting hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of income on the lawyer's tax returns "because he never looked at the financial records that Les Jones gave him."
Jones, 58, went on trial yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on tax-evasion and false-declaration charges tied to his original and amended 1983 and 1984 tax returns.
The defendant, a former Baltimore County delegate and state prosecutor, is a well-known attorney who practices criminal law and handles accident cases in state courts in Baltimore, Harford and Cecil counties.
Evans told the jury that Jones failed to report nearly $300,000 of his income for the two years, while he bought Florida condos and a slew of classic Corvette and Mercedes-Benz autos.
Jones paid for his cars, condos and other luxury items by skimming cash that he got from clients and his associate lawyers and "bypassing" the law firm's bank accounts, where it would be recorded for tax purposes, Evans contended.
In one instance, Evans said, Jones failed to report a $100,000 legal fee from a settlement in an accident case but used the money to pay off a loan on a condominium. It was, said the prosecutor, "the largest fee he ever got in his life, and he didn't report it" on his taxes.
Sachs acknowledged that Jones made mistakes and cannot yet account for all the money the prosecution says he earned in the years covered by the indictment.
But Sachs accused Jones' tax man, who is to testify for the government, of "negligence" and "malfeasance" for failing to reconstruct the defendant's true income from bank records.
"Les Jones left a paper trail so wide and so deep that anyone looking for his income could find it immediately" in those records, Sachs said.
The defense attorney said trial evidence will show that the $100,000 fee was used to buy a certificate of deposit, which generated $2,700 in interest that Jones declared as income on his tax returns.
The tax preparer "had all the records necessary for an accurate return sent to his office," Sachs said. "He had 'em all, and didn't look at 'em."
Sachs also said Jones consistently deposited the cash he received in bank accounts where it could easily be traced to him for tax purposes, and cooperated fully with IRS officials when they requested his law firm's case files, which contained photocopies of checks he received from clients.
The trial, which was continuing today, is expected to last a month.