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Ex-‘Survivor’ Hatch found guilty of tax evasion

Reality show winner failed to pay taxes on $1 million show prize
/ Source: The Associated Press

Richard Hatch, who won $1 million in the debut season of the reality show “Survivor,” was found guilty Wednesday of failing to pay taxes on his winnings and taken straight to jail.

Hatch remained calm as the court clerk read the verdict. He waved goodbye to family members, then was handcuffed and taken into custody after U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres said he was a potential flight risk.

The charges carry up to 13 years in prison. Torres said he expected a sentence of between 33 months and 41 months, but it could be longer because prosecutors accuse Hatch of committing perjury during his testimony. Sentencing was scheduled for April 28.

Hatch, 44, was also convicted of evading taxes on $327,000 he earned as co-host of a Boston radio show and $28,000 in rent on property he owned.

Hatch’s lawyer, John MacDonald, said he would appeal the verdict, adding that Hatch knew it was possible he would go to jail.

“Rich has been going through this now for three years and he’s prepared himself mentally and emotionally for this date,” MacDonald said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Reich said prosecutors were pleased with the verdict.

Torres said Hatch never accounted for a significant part of his money, including the “Survivor” prize, which he said could be used to flee.

‘World’s worst bookkeeper’Near the end of the trial, an explanation for Hatch’s failure to pay taxes was raised by his lawyer — but never mentioned in the jury’s presence. Hatch’s lawyer, Michael Minns, said Hatch caught fellow contestants cheating and struck a deal with the show’s producers to pay his taxes if he won. But Hatch was never asked about the allegation when he testified.

Instead, Minns told jurors Hatch was the “world’s worst bookkeeper” and said his client never meant to do anything wrong.

Hatch testified that he thought producers were supposed to pay his “Survivor” taxes, and said the donations he took from his charity were far less than the money he had already poured into it.

One juror, Robert Paquette, said in a telephone interview the jury believed Hatch had legitimate questions about who was responsible for paying his “Survivor” taxes. But he said Hatch crossed the line when he didn’t report income from his rental property and radio show.

“Even if you take the ‘Survivor’ money out of there, there was still a lot of evidence,” Paquette said.

Hatch was acquitted of seven bank, mail and wire fraud charges that related to his charity, Horizon Bound, an outdoors program he planned to open for troubled youth. Prosecutors claimed he spent the money on personal expenses, including tips to a limousine driver, dry cleaning and tens of thousands of dollars worth of improvements to a house he owned.

Reality TV's favorite villainMore than five years after winning, Hatch remains reality TV’s most famous villain, the man viewers loved to hate. He first captured their attention for shedding his clothes on “Survivor,” prompting David Letterman to nickname him “the fat naked guy.”

But he made the biggest impression — and won the show — by scheming his way to the top. He reveled as squabbles among his fellow contestants thinned their ranks, connived with teammates to stick together, then pitted his allies against each other.

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Early on, he used his success on the show to get more work, including a “Got Milk?” ad and an appearance on “Survivor All-Stars” — where he was promptly voted off by fellow contestants.

He also appeared on TV game shows, including “The Weakest Link.” That appearance, made on behalf of Horizon Bound, netted a $10,000 donation to his charity — money prosecutors said was among the funds misused.

But Hatch’s shrewdness did not serve him well in the legal world. A year ago, prosecutors offered him a deal: plead guilty to two counts of tax evasion and they would recommend less than the maximum 10-year sentence.

After initially agreeing, Hatch walked away, retaining Minns as his lawyer and appearing on NBC’s “Today” show to claim that CBS was supposed to pay the taxes.

Prosecutors responded with a grand jury, which indicted Hatch on 10 counts carrying up to 73 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.

During the trial, prosecutors called various witnesses, including “Survivor” executive producer Mark Burnett.

Burnett testified that Hatch’s “Survivor” contract stated he would have to pay taxes on his prize. Minns never asked him about the cheating allegation, and Burnett and CBS declined to comment.