A federal jury on Thursday acquitted former University of Kentucky and NBA basketball player Randolph Morris of several tax crimes.
Morris was charged with three counts of wire fraud and eight counts of making false statements after he failed to report millions of dollars of foreign income while he played professional basketball in China from 2010 to 2017. Morris didn’t deny that he left the income off his taxes, but a jury ultimately ruled he didn’t intentionally defraud the United States.
“This is a huge relief for his family,” said Whitney True Lawson, one of Morris’ attorneys. “We’re happy with this outcome. We think it was the right outcome.”
Morris said he left the income off his taxes because he didn’t understand his tax responsibilities. The team Morris played for at the time, the Beijing Ducks, had a provision in Morris’ contract that stated his income was “net of tax.” The team was responsible for paying taxes on Morris’ behalf to the Chinese government, according to the contract.
But the team was not paying taxes to the U.S. government.
“It was my understanding that that money was already taxed,” Morris said in court testimony when he took the stand to defend himself.
Morris said he signed with the Beijing Ducks in part because he was told the Ducks would handle all of his taxes on his behalf.
Emails filed into the court record indicated that Morris tried several times to get tax documents from the Ducks so he could pass them along to his accountant to properly report his income. But he didn’t get those documents, he said.
One of Morris’ attorneys, Patrick Mullin, told jurors that suggesting Morris “concocted a scheme” to defraud the United States “is not what happened here.”
Morris also argued that his agent told him he didn’t have to report his Chinese income on his taxes. Emails filed into court showed his agent told him, “Dudes in America don’t even report that s**t,” referring to the foreign income.
The jury deliberated for a little over three hours Thursday morning before returning the not guilty verdict.
“The jury’s verdict speaks for itself,” Mullin said when asked for comment.
Morris said after the verdict that he’d been dealing with the tax investigation for three years and felt like no one was listening to him.
“We were happy that our voices were finally heard,” he said.
Prosecutors argued that even if Morris couldn’t get the tax documents, he made the decision to not report his income. That’s illegal, argued William Moynahan, an assistant U.S. attorney.
“He just stopped trying” to report his overseas income, Moynahan said in court arguments.
“It can’t be that he just forgot to report the money on his taxes, Moynahan said.
Moynahan didn’t make an additional comment after the verdict was delivered.
Morris’ trial featured three days of testimony. Morris’ wife, Andrea Morris, testified to how terrifying it was to have the IRS investigating the family. She also testified that the Morris’ never intended to do anything wrong.