LAFAYETTE - A former assistant district attorney with the 15th Judicial District was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay about $180,000 in restitution for his November tax evasion conviction.
U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley said Joseph Floyd Johnson, 50, devised a scheme to hide assets and avoid paying about $180,000 in taxes owed from 2003 to 2008.
Johnson, who was with the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office from 1995 to 2010, was charged in July with a single count of tax evasion stemming from 2003 when he owed $84,581 in taxes. Johnson had earned $259,371 in income from his private law practice and his salary as a prosecutor.
Testimony in court revealed Johnson’s tax problems date back to the early 1990s, including an incident in 1993 when the IRS put a $49,000 tax lien against him.
“The defendant at some point decided that he was going to keep the lifestyle that he had become accustomed to at all cost,” Finley said in a statement released after the sentencing. “He made a conscious decision to stop filing his tax returns and to stop paying the taxes he owed.”
Finley argued that Johnson’s actions were clearly part of a sophisticated scheme to conceal assets from the government.
That scheme involved paying creditors before the government; using cash to make large purchases; putting land and property, like the home he was living in, under the names of family members; taking out loans under his brother’s name; and using his private practice’s client trust account to pay personal expenses.
Johnson also accepted a Corvette as payment for legal services, according to testimony and evidence presented Wednesday.
On two occasions, Johnson purchased land and put the land in his mother-in-law’s name. The mother-in-law then transferred the property to Johnson’s brother, Chris, who in turn took out a loan that allowed Floyd Johnson to build a house on the land, Finley said.
When investigators initially questioned Johnson about his home, he lied by telling them he was renting the property from his brother, Finley said.
One of Johnson’s attorney’s, Rickey Miniex, had argued that Johnson’s actions did not constitute a “sophisticated scheme,” which could have resulted in an enhancement of the sentencing guidelines.
Chris Rainey, a certified public accountant called in to testify for the defense, said Johnson’s actions were not especially complex.
“No complexity; just plan vanilla hiding of assets,” Rainey testified.
Kristie LeBeau, a criminal investigator with the IRS, testified that it was the totality of Johnson’s actions that merited the charge of tax evasion.
U.S. District Judge Richard T. Haik, after listening to more than two hours of testimony, agreed with the government’s assessment.
“If there isn’t a scheme here, there ain’t no such thing as a scheme,” Haik said.
Prior to sentencing, Johnson told the court that he did his best to support his family in times of need, while admitting that his actions were wrong.
“As an officer of the court, I was remiss,” he said.
Valerie Garrett, one of five attorneys representing Johnson, asked the court to consider the good things Johnson had done for the community during his many years of service to the public.
“His personal life was a mess,” Garrett said. “When he stepped out of that mess, he tried to do good for the community and for his family.”
Haik told Johnson that he came into the hearing not knowing what he was going to do. He said not handing down a sentence in a case like this would “send a terrible message” to the community.
He said the case also does not involve a single instance, but numerous cases that give the appearance that Johnson cared little for the tax law.
“It appears that he really just didn’t care,” Haik said.
Finley, who personally prosecuted the case, asked that Johnson’s position as a prosecutor and attorney not factor into Johnson’s sentencing. Finley asked that Johnson be sentenced within the guidelines of 18-24 months.
Haik questioned how Johnson allowed “such a great future” to slip away.
“I know you don’t feel like you got a break, but you did,” Haik told Johnson, adding that he had toyed with the idea of sentencing the former prosecutor above the sentencing guidelines.
Johnson will be placed on three years of supervised probation upon release from prison.
Haik allowed Johnson to self-report to prison no later than July 7.
His attorneys also announced their intentions to appeal the sentence.