Reality show star Richard Hatch is merely the “world’s worst bookkeeper,” not the tax evader that prosecutors make him out to be, his attorney said Thursday as the “Survivor” winner’s tax fraud trial got under way.
Prosecutor Andrew Reich told jurors the government would prove Hatch willfully failed to report his $1 million winnings from the hit CBS show to avoid paying more than $200,000 in taxes.
In fact, Reich said in his opening statement, Hatch sought a $4,500 refund from the IRS that year.
On the show, Hatch become known as a cunning and ruthless competitor who was nude during much of the inaugural season of “Survivor” in 2000.
His attorney, Michael Minns, argued Thursday that Hatch was struggling with his newfound fame after winning the contest, was overwhelmed by false child abuse charges and was relying on the advice of a self-employed accountant who was “in over her head.”
“Richard Hatch is not a stupid man,” Minns said. “He is the world’s worst bookkeeper, bar none.”
Federal prosecutors say Hatch filed false tax returns for 2000 and 2001 that omitted his income from the reality show, as well as $327,000 he earned as a co-host on a Boston radio show and $28,000 in rent on a property he owns in Newport.
Reich told jurors Hatch also altered checks made out to his charitable foundation, Horizon Bound, so he could use the money to renovate his Newport property.
Hatch pleaded not guilty to charges of tax evasion, filing a false tax return, wire fraud, bank fraud and mail fraud. His lawyer said Hatch will take the witness stand later in the trial.
Hatch has previously said he believed CBS was responsible for paying the taxes on his winnings. CBS has said Hatch knew he was responsible for the taxes.
Among the government’s first witnesses Thursday was Mark Burnett, executive producer of “Survivor” and other reality shows, including “The Apprentice.” Burnett testified that Hatch signed an agreement before the contest began stating that Hatch was responsible for paying all taxes on his winnings.