Gay "Survivor" Richard Hatch Goes Back to Prison

by Peter Cassels

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday March 15, 2011

For the third time since his conviction on federal tax evasion charges; Richard Hatch, the "fat, naked gay guy" who won $1 million as the first winner of the "Survivor" reality show, is behind bars.

A U.S. District Court judge in Providence, R.I., on Friday, March 11, sentenced Hatch to nine months in federal prison for violating the terms of his probation.

The "Survivor" star reported to federal marshals in Providence on Monday, March 14, to begin his sentence. Upon his release, he will be on probation for 23 months. The only condition of his probation will be that he pay 25 percent of his income to the Internal Revenue Service to satisfy tax obligations.

According to prosecutors and the judge, the Newport, R.I., resident violated the terms of his previous probation by not paying $240,000 in taxes on his "Survivor" winnings and other income in 2001.

The U.S. Attorney's Office contends that tax bill is now close to $1 million because of interest and penalties, even though the judge said during the sentencing hearing that Hatch owes about $1.2 million.

When he was convicted in 2006 on two counts of tax evasion (he was found innocent on seven additional charges,) Hatch was sentenced to 51 months in prison. Hatch served about three years and was released in May 2009.

He was jailed again in Aug. 2009 because he granted media interviews allegedly without seeking permission. Hatch was released the following October.

"The government recommends six months incarceration," Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Reich told Judge William Smith. "Mr. Hatch willfully ignores and thumbs his nose at the court at the supervised probation requirements. He showed no remorse. As a statement to others, we ask his incarceration."

Reich also asked that Hatch serve 29 months of probation and pay the IRS 25 percent of the first $50,000 and 50 percent of any gross income over that amount.

"He has constantly referred to his sexual orientation as the reason why the U.S. Attorney pursued prosecution and that the court was biased against him because of it," Reich told Smith. "That is untrue."

Mary McElroy, Hatch's attorney, said prosecutors resent his publicly criticizing them and the court on the reasons why he believes he was a target and continuing to assert his innocence. "The issue is pure punishment for things he has said that were controversial or unkind," she asserted. "Further incarceration does not make sense."

McElroy further explained his tax situation is "complicated," and he remains unclear how much he actually owes. She pointed out the case is in U.S. Tax Court and remains unresolved.

"He has the right to disagree with the sentence," said McElroy. "He did comply with probation. There's simply no statute providing for how to pay."

McElroy reported that Hatch's total income since his release from prison was $27,000. She also contended that Hatch has been looking for a job and recently was offered one as an apartment manager, working 40 hours a week with free rent and a stipend.

"How convenient that a job offer came up just a couple of days before his sentencing hearing date," said Reich.

Before being sentenced, Hatch read a statement contending he has always fully cooperated with the IRS, the Tax Court and probation.

"I served my entire prison sentence and was always represented by an accountant and sometimes by attorneys," his statement said. "I continue to work diligently as always to comply with the original court's special conditions."

Those conditions stipulated that Hatch receive mental health counseling (which a counselor told him he did not need, he has said;) file amended tax returns and pay all back taxes.

"I fully intend to pay, as I always have, whatever is determined due once that determination has been made," stressed Hatch.

"There's no indication that [Hatch] gets it," said Smith before he sentenced him. "The bottom line is that this is not a complicated matter. You [Hatch] characterize this as a condition of supervised release. The condition was that you pay the tax owed. It's that simple. You have committed not a technical violation but a fundamental violation."

Smith also told Hatch that he seemed to believe the sentence the judge handed down after his trial "was the beginning of bargaining to determine what you owe."

"It was not," he said. "You don't have the right to avoid complying with the conditions of your sentence."

The judge said he would impose a sentence that "reflects the seriousness of the violation and is sufficient to send a message that you don't have the ability to negotiate." Smith added it "will send a message to others considering willfully violating orders."

He then ordered Hatch to be locked up for the maximum allowed under federal sentencing guidelines for probation violation. Smith also ordered him to serve 23 months of probation on his release, less than what the prosecutor requested.

The only condition required would be to pay the 25 percent of his income toward taxes and penalties. "Other than that, you will be free to travel about the country," explained Smith.

Previously, Hatch required court permission to leave Rhode Island. The court has not released his passport, so it's unclear whether he will be able to travel outside the country when he finishes his sentence.

Reich wanted Hatch to be remanded immediately, but McElroy pointed out that he is not a flight risk. Smith gave him the weekend to get his affairs in order.

Hatch told news media when he left the courthouse that he was "disappointed" in the sentence, but took no further questions.

Hatch is currently a contestant on "Celebrity Apprentice," the NBC reality show, but the network said his being in prison would have no impact. The program was taped in New York City last fall.

Peter Cassels is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association's Excellence in Journalism award. His e-mail address is [email protected].