Tax-evasion case against attorney ends in mistrial Jury unable to reach verdict on charges against lawyer.

July 31, 1991|By Kelly Gilbert | Kelly Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

The federal tax evasion case against Bel Air attorney Lester V. Jones has ended in a mistrial, with the jury unable to reach a unanimous verdict on any of the four counts in the indictment.

Prosecutors Joseph L. Evans and Ira L. Oring said immediately that they will seek a retrial, as Evans put it, "as soon as we can get a trial date" from Judge Marvin J. Garbis.

The jury, which had declared a deadlock after five hours of deliberation a week ago in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, told Garbis yesterday that it was unable to break the impasse after another 4 1/2 days of trying.

Jones is charged with two counts of tax evasion tied to his 1983 and 1984 returns and two false-filing counts tied to amended returns he filed to correct errors in the originals.

Juror Gary Ponder said after court adjourned yesterday that the panel deadlocked 10-2 in favor of convicting Jones on the tax evasion counts and 11-1 in favor of acquittal on the false-filing charges.

Ponder said the jury earlier had unanimously agreed to acquit Jones of the false-filing counts. But he said one juror changed his mind yesterday and deadlocked the panel on those counts, too.

Ponder said the jury originally had voted a 6-6 tie on the four charges before it reported the first deadlock to Garbis July 23, but, because of of the panel's "lack of experience," did not push the court to accept the impasse then.

Other jurors spoke privately with Garbis after court adjourned, but declined to speak with the press as they left the courthouse.

Jones, 58, a former Baltimore County delegate and prosecutor, said he thought the deadlock was "fantastic."

"It's been a nightmare," Jones said. "It's great to see that the people on the jury were not necessarily buying carte blanche what the government said. As a criminal defense at torney for 30 years, I can deeply appreciate what my clients have had to go through."

Jones did not testify. Defense attorney Stephen H. Sachs said, "The government took its best shot, and missed" in prosecuting Jones.

"They put this case together over five years, and couldn't convict Les Jones," Sachs said. "I hope the government will understand that enough is enough" and not press for a retrial.

But Evans and Oring said they definitely will retry the case.

The hung jury, Evans said, "is part of the [judicial] process."

Responding to Sachs' "best shot" remark, Evans said, "Mr. Sachs knows his comments are rhetoric intended for the public, and nothing more than that."

The prosecutors contended during the bitterly fought, 2 1/2 -week trial that Jones routinely skimmed cash from legal fees, and knowingly and willfully signed false tax returns.

According to trial evidence, Jones claimed income of about $50,000 a year while he spent $200,000 a year on personal items that included condos in Ocean City and North Palm Beach, Fla., a collection of expensive new and antique cars, and such miscellaneous items as $35,000 worth of condo furniture.

Evans told the jury in closing arguments last week that it was "preposterous" to believe the defendant could spend so much money and not know, when he signed his tax returns under penalty of perjury, that he was understating his true income.

Sachs blamed Ronald A. Dochter, Jones' tax accountant, for making numerous and massive errors on the defendant's returns, and on the amended returns Jones filed in 1986 after an IRS agent discovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in unreported income during an audit of the defendant's financial records.

Dochter, a key government witness, acknowledged that he made errors on Jones' returns, but said he never looked at financial records that the defense said he was given to use in preparing them. Sachs contended throughout the trial that Jones laid out all his records for the IRS agent at the initial audit.

But Ponder, the juror, said he voted for convictions on the tax evasion counts because he believed Jones "withheld information" from the IRS, "even though it was there to be seen" in the defendant's financial records during the audit.

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