NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal grand jury returned an 11-count indictment Friday against New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams and an attorney in his law firm on tax fraud charges.
Williams is accused of inflating his business expenses from 2013 to 2017 in order to reduce his tax liability by more than $200,000, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Louisiana said in a news release.
The indictment also said Williams, a criminal defense lawyer, and Nicole Burdett, an attorney in Williams’ law office who also handled administrative duties, failed to file the proper reports on cash payments from clients totaling $66,516.
The charges include one count of conspiracy, five counts each of preparing false or fraudulent tax returns and failing to file tax forms related to cash received.
Williams’ attorney, Billy Gibbens, issued a statement Friday saying they were “deeply disappointed that the government chose to indict Jason Williams simply for following the advice of his tax preparer.”
Gibbens, according to The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate, also questioned the timing of the indictment with qualifying for the district attorney’s race weeks away. Williams has said he plans to challenge Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.
Michael Magner, an attorney for Burdett, touted Burdett’s innocence in a statement, saying they were “disappointed and baffled” at the indictment. Burdett played no role in the tax decisions, the statement said.
The investigation into Williams, led by the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI, has been going on for at least two years, Williams has confirmed. Williams has said he believes the probe has its roots in politics, blaming Cannizzaro for triggering the inquiry — though Cannizzaro has no authority over federal investigators.
Cannizzaro has responded by accusing Williams of airing a baseless suspicion to divert attention from his own legal problems.
Williams was elected to an at-large seat on the City Council in 2014 and easily re-elected in 2018. His current term expires in 2022. But for more than a year, he has said he plans to challenge Cannizzaro for the city’s top prosecutor post. Cannizzaro has yet to announce a run for a third six-year term.
Williams ran for the office in 2008, finishing third behind Cannizzaro and runner-up Ralph Capitelli.
Qualifying for the Nov. 3 election is from July 22-24.