A jury on Thursday will begin deliberations to decide if former University of Kentucky basketball player Randolph Morris intentionally lied on his tax returns by failing to report millions of dollars in foreign income over several years.
Morris is accused of wire fraud and filing false tax returns after failing to report about $18 million in gross income on his taxes between 2010 and 2017, according to court records. He could face decades in prison if he’s convicted, depending on sentencing.
Morris and his attorneys argued in court during the trial that he did not intentionally fail to report his income. He was playing professional basketball in China for the Beijing Ducks and said he was led to believe the team was handling all of his taxes. They argued that Morris misunderstood his contract with the Ducks and also took bad advice from his agent.
“My client did not have any intent to defraud anybody, especially the IRS,” said Patrick Mullin, one of Morris’ attorneys.
Morris’ contract with the Ducks had a tax provision which said the team was responsible for paying his Chinese taxes. Mullin said the provision “was clear as mud” and led Morris to believe the team was paying all his taxes.
Morris also testified in court that his agent, Wallace Prather, made the issue worse by telling him a lot of American pro players who make money overseas “don’t even report that s**t in America.”
Morris said he simply misunderstood his tax obligations. He reported other income from those same years on his taxes, but never put the money he made from the Ducks on his taxes because he thought he didn’t have to, he said.
Morris said Wednesday his new understanding of his tax obligation is “anywhere you work, America needs to get paid.”
Morris admitted in court that he didn’t put the money on his tax documents. He also admitted that he signed the returns under the potential penalty of perjury.
U.S. prosecutors argued that Morris had to report his income regardless of the unclear provision in his contract or the “crummy advice” his agent gave him. IRS agents also testified that it was illegal to not report foreign income on taxes.
William Moynahan, an attorney for the United States, said Morris’ contract “may have been unclear, but that’s not what this case is about.”
Moynahan also argued that Morris should have realized it was a bad idea to not report his income, even if his agent suggested it. Moynahan said Morris hid his foreign income from tax preparers. Morris utilized an accountant in 2010 before he started doing his taxes at H&R Block and, eventually, started doing them himself online.
Moynahan said the fact that Morris knew he was making money overseas and chose not to put that money on his taxes was enough to indicate he violated federal tax law.
“This case is about common sense,” Moynahan said in court Wednesday. “It’s not about complex tax law, it’s not about tax treaties, it’s not even about complex tax forms.”
The jury was given the option to begin deliberations Wednesday evening but instead chose to return to court Thursday morning to begin. Morris faces 11 total charges: three counts of wire fraud and eight counts of making false statements.