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Richard Hatch Sentenced

by Peter Cassels
Contributor
Tuesday May 16, 2006
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Richard Hatch, the openly gay winner of the first "Survivor" reality TV show, was sentenced to four years and three months in federal prison May 16, a penalty harsher than he could have received because the judge concluded that he committed perjury during his trial and lied to a probation officer.

Hatch, 45, had been convicted Jan. 25 on three counts of tax evasion in U.S. District Court for filing incorrect tax returns for 2000 and 2001. The government had charged that he did not report his "Survivor" winnings--more than $1 million--and other income. The jury acquitted him on seven additional counts of fraud, believing the government had not provided sufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Looking pale after months without sunlight, the world’s first reality TV star was escorted into the courtroom handcuffed behind his back wearing leg shackles and orange prison scrubs. Accepting the government’s contention that Hatch was a flight risk, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Ernest Torres, who presided over the trial and sentenced Hatch, had revoked his bail and ordered him incarcerated after the jury verdict.

He has been confined at a state facility in Plymouth, Mass., that houses people awaiting trial and contracts out for federal inmates, John McDonald, one of Hatch’s attorneys, told EDGE. He would have been confined in a federal facility in Central Falls, R.I., but construction work is going on there.

In an exclusive interview with EDGE in his hotel room after sentencing, Hatch lead counsel Michael Minns, a nationally known criminal tax attorney from Houston, Texas, said Plymouth prison officials had wanted to put Hatch in civilian clothes for his court appearance, but they were overruled. Minns said he didn’t know by whom. "He was placed in prison clothes for effect," Minns contended. "That is unusual but not unheard of."

Hatch greeted his mother and his sister Kristin, seated in the front row of the spectator gallery, when he arrived in the courtroom.

After listening to McDonald and Minns present arguments for a sentence of 33 to 44 months and Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Reich ask for the maximum of 51 months during a hearing that lasted nearly two hours, Torres went through a litany of instances in which Hatch "willfully gave false testimony." They included telling one accountant who prepared his tax returns that he had no other business income besides his "Survivor" winnings and that he didn’t know he would have to pay taxes on the winnings even though it was stated in the contract he signed with the producers of "Survivor" and he received a tax form showing those winnings as income.

"Based on those things, I’m sorry to say it is very clear to me," Torres said. "There’s no nice way to say it. Mr. Hatch lied--and lied repeatedly."

The judge also said there was evidence Hatch was not truthful with probation officials during the pre-sentencing phase by not reporting that he owned several properties in Michigan and Nova Scotia. "Statements on what a person owns is important," Torres said. He then asked Hatch if he had anything to say.

"I believe I’ve been completely truthful and completely forthcoming throughout the entire process," Hatch told Torres. "In the last four years I have done everything I could do. There are many things you said just now I have explanations for."

The judge told Hatch, "It does appear you have done some good things, but what weighs most heavily in my mind is obstruction--false testimony. You basically committed perjury and you obstructed justice." Torres then said, "You’ve made the offense far worse."

"The court admitted he was a good human being, but did not give him an hour off [the sentence] because of that."

Besides giving Hatch 51 months, Torres ordered three years of supervised release once he completes that sentence and that he should undergo counseling "because you are in a state of denial that I observed in trial and at this hearing."

Hatch also was ordered to file correct tax returns for 2000 and 2001 and pay all taxes and penalties, but Torres did not impose a fine, saying it would be superfluous given the tax debt he owes.

Speaking with news media outside the courthouse, U.S. Attorney Robert Clark Corrente said he was pleased with the sentence. "One of the worst aspects of what he did was manipulating people," Corrente said. "Our tax system is meant to be fair to everyone. He has to pay like everyone else." Asked if Hatch’s celebrity played a role in prosecuting the case, he said, "We would have proceeded the same if he were not a celebrity."

A media gaggle followed Minns in pouring rain from the courthouse to the hotel. "Richard Hatch is disappointed," he told reporters. "He still contends he told the truth at trial."

Asked if Hatch should have testified, since what he said was one reason he received a stiffer sentence, Minns replied, "If he had not testified who knows if he would have been convicted on the other seven counts?"

In a phone interview with EDGE a week before sentencing, Minns predicted that Hatch would receive the maximum sentence of 51 months, even though he hoped he was wrong.

During the hotel room interview, Minns said he doesn’t blame Torres. "I have great respect for the trial judge." Nevertheless, he filed a notice of appeal before the sentencing hearing. It will take the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Boston, 30 days to a year to decide whether it will hear the case, he said.

His attorney told EDGE Hatch will spend the next three to four weeks at the Plymouth facility while federal corrections officials determine where he’ll serve the sentence. He’ll get credit for the approximately four months he has spent there. "The court admitted he was a good human being, but did not give him an hour off [the sentence] because of that," Minns said.

Asked how Hatch is doing, Minns replied, "Better than most people would be, but it’s certainly not a good place to be. He is in a community cell area so he can see people. He gets nothing but artificial light. The lights are on 24/7 and the TVs, they are on loud. People are yelling and screaming all the time. So for a guy whose favorite environment is out in the woods or on the ocean, it’s a very hostile environment."

Hatch was held in isolation for a period of time when he arrived in Plymouth, standard procedure for new prisoners.

His attorneys will ask that Hatch serve his time in what legal experts have said will be a minimum security facility--a dormitory-style prison camp--in Florida so that Emiliano Cabral, his spouse--they were married in Canada--can visit him. Minns told EDGE he doesn’t know where Cabral is now, but he is likely out of the country. He is an Argentinean citizen. "It is extraordinarily difficult for him to visit where he is right now--and expensive," the attorney reported.

Peter Cassels is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s Excellence in Journalism award. His e-mail address is pcassels@edgepublications.com.

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