Legal News - New Orleans councilman, attorney plead not guilty to fraud

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New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams and an attorney in his law firm pleaded not guilty to federal tax fraud charges on Friday.

Williams, 47, and Nicole Burdett, 39, appeared remotely before a federal magistrate judge and entered their pleas to charges of conspiracy, preparing false or fraudulent tax returns and failing to file tax forms related to cash received, news outlets reported.

The two were charged in an 11-count indictment  last month following a yearslong investigation led by the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI.

Williams, a criminal defense lawyer, was accused of inflating his business expenses from 2013 to 2017 in order to reduce his tax liability by more than $200,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Louisiana. The indictment also alleged Williams and 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.

Williams’ attorney, Billy Gibbens, has contended his client was just following the advice of his tax preparer, saying the accountant made the errors on his own, according to The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. Michael Magner, an attorney for Burdett, also said his client was innocent and did not have any role in the tax decisions.

Williams and Gibbens raised questions about the timing of the indictment as Williams prepares to challenge Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro for the top prosecuting role. The campaign qualifying period for the Nov. 3 election is set to end July 24. Williams has said he still plans to run for the seat, according to The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate.  A preliminary trial date for the case was set for Sept. 14.

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