Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta Affirms Tax Fraud Conviction

A federal criminal tax fraud case, for your tax season reading pleasure:

Gregory Louis Clarke, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church, Superintendent of New Hope Christian School, and manager of New Hope Federal Credit Union in Birmingham, Alabama, was convicted in federal court of committing tax fraud for failing to declare income in his 2000, 2001, and 2002 returns. In December 2007, he was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison. Last month the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia affirmed Reverend Clarke’s conviction and sentence.

Evidence presented at trial showed that Rev. Clarke filed tax returns for 2000-2002 based solely on his W-2s and 1099s, failing to declare additional income in those years. His undeclared income included insurance and car payments, a housing allowance, and personal bills paid out of church and school bank accounts, in addition to fees for speaking engagements and referrals to a mortgage company and car dealership.

Rev. Clarke appealed his conviction on three grounds: that the jury selection process violated the Sixth Amendment, that evidence was insufficient to support a guilty verdict, and that the District Court erred in calculating his sentence under the Sentencing Guidelines. The Eleventh Circuit held that Rev. Clarke failed to show that the under-representation of African-Americans on the jury venire in his case was due to systematic exclusion of the group from juries. The Court went on to say that the government had presented ample evidence of all elements of the crimes charged. The Court then determined that the District Court had accurately calculated his sentence both by assessing the total tax loss correctly and by appropriately applying the two-level enhancement for using “sophisticated means.”

Having handled tax evasion and fraud cases like this one, we understand that these issues are not unusual. However, it is important for attorneys to read opinions as they are issued to remain abreast of legal developments. The full opinion in this case is available here. A list of recent opinions issued by the Eleventh Circuit is available here.