Harford lawyer convicted of evading income taxes Jones failed to report $290,000 in income

April 23, 1992|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

Lester V. Jones, a flamboyant Harford County lawyer and one-time state delegate who dazzled neighbors with his collection of classic cars, was convicted of tax evasion yesterday by a federal jury.

Jones, 59, faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison when he appears before U.S. District Senior Judge Herbert N. Maletz.

The jury deliberated two days after a two-week trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore before finding Jones guilty of evading income taxes in 1983 and 1984, having underreported his income by nearly $290,000.

This was the second tax-evasion trial for Jones. A mistrial was declared last July when a jury could not reach verdicts on any of the counts.

Prosecutors were at a loss to explain the different result this time.

"I don't know; it was very much the same case," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph L. Evans, who prosecuted the case along with Ira Oring.

Stephen H. Sachs, the defense attorney, agreed that the trials were similar.

"It was just a different jury," said Mr. Sachs, who added that he was considering an appeal.

Prosecutors presented evidence during the trial that showed Jones claimed about $50,000 of taxable annual income in 1983 and 1984, although he actually earned at least three times that amount. They said he bypassed his record-keeping system at his Bel Air law firm by not documenting the receipt of cash and checks.

Mr. Evans said during closing arguments Monday that Jones collected 77 checks over a two-year period that were not recorded. He said the money boosted Jones' income to $170,000 in 1983 and to $217,000 in 1984.

"People who traffic in cash -- and keep no records -- do so for one reason and one reason only," Mr. Evans said. "They are trying to frustrate tax collection."

Mr. Sachs contended throughout the trial that Jones, though a former prosecutor and member of the House of Delegates, was naive about complex tax laws and had relied on his accountant, Ronald A. Dochter. He said Mr. Dochter made a number of errors on Jones' tax returns.

Mr. Sachs surrounded himself with 3-foot-tall enlargements of bank records and checks during his closing argument to illustrate what he said was the government's attempt to crush Jones under the weight of financial records.

The defense attorney said that Jones had acted responsibly after his records came to the attention of Internal Revenue Service investigators in 1986 through a random audit, and that he cooperated with the officials.

"Through all the years of IRS indecision and delay, Les Jones waited dutifully for the investigation to end. Nothing was hidden. Nothing was destroyed," Mr. Sachs said.

But prosecutors said the jury agreed with them that Jones knew all along how much money he made and deliberately tried to avoid his tax obligation. They said he used the money instead to buy and maintain a fleet of 24 classic automobiles, including Mercedes Benzes and a Rolls-Royce, and to buy condos in Ocean City and North Palm Beach, Fla.

Jones, who did not testify during the trial, had been proud of his collection of restored cars, his lawyer said. He would drive around his Harford County neighborhood to show them off, several witnesses said.

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