Second tax-evasion trial opens for lawyer Again, defense blaming Jones' ex-accountant.

April 03, 1992|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

The second tax-evasion trial of Bel Air attorney Lester V. Jones has gotten under way with much the same script that produced a deadlocked jury in the first trial last July.

Only the judge and jurors have changed.

Federal prosecutors have promised no surprises, and defense attorney Stephen H. Sachs has again blamed Mr. Jones' former accountant for inaccurate tax returns that led to indictments against the former state delegate and Baltimore County prosecutor.

Mr. Sachs said during the first trial that the accountant, Ronald Dochter, lied under oath as a prosecution witness. In his opening statement yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Mr. Sachs made it clear that he will again raise questions about Mr. Dochter's credibility.

"Are we going to blame the tax preparer? You'd better believe we're going to blame the tax preparer, because the tax preparer is blameworthy," Mr. Sachs said, adding that Mr. Dochter would lie in his testimony to avoid professional sanctions or prosecution.

Mr. Jones, 59, is charged with two counts of tax evasion and two counts of filing false amended tax statements. His trial before Senior Judge Herbert N. Maletz is expected to last two weeks.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph L. Evans said in his opening statement that Mr. Jones underreported his income for 1982 through 1984. He said the government was barred from prosecuting the 1982 violations because the statute of limitations has expired.

Mr. Evans told the jury of eight men and four women that Mr. Jones earned a total of nearly $400,000 in 1983 and 1984, but reported to the Internal Revenue Service only about $100,000 of taxable income for the two years.

He said Mr. Jones skimmed cash and checks he received from clients and law associates at his practice and did not record them in the firm's books.

Mr. Evans said the lawyer used the money for lavish personal spending, including the purchase of four Mercedes-Benz autos in 1982. He told jurors that Mr. Jones owned 24 classic automobiles, including a Rolls Royce, while reporting taxable income of about $50,000 a year.

"You will hear evidence that Lester Jones wanted to maintain a certain lifestyle," the prosecutor said. "He made a choice to buy certain things to maintain that lifestyle rather than to pay his income taxes."

Mr. Evans told the jury that Mr.Jones knew how much he earned and how much he actually reported.

But Mr. Sachs said his client was an unsophisticated small-town defense lawyer who was unfamiliar with the complex 14-page tax forms prepared by Mr. Dochter. He said the defendant thought the tax reductions of the 1980s would lower his tax burden.

"Les was a 'where do I sign, what do I owe,' bottom-line kind of guy," Mr. Sachs said.

He argued that Mr. Jones used cash from clients to pay his associates and to pay business expenses that he didn't claim on tax forms. He said the lawyer's practice had sloppy bookkeeping, and failed to keep journals on money paid by clients.

He also defended his client's car collection, saying Mr. Jones had a 25-year love affair with classic autos. He said the lawyer would buy junked autos at cheap prices and restore them into $50,000 vehicles.

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