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Former U.S attorney gets prison time on tax charges

Former U.S. Attorney Lawrence Semenza II, who once led the government’s prosecution of tax cheats in Nevada, was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison Wednesday for failing to pay $290,009 in taxes.

Semenza, 72, was ordered to pay the money to the IRS as restitution and serve one year of supervised release after prison. He has until April 17 to surrender to authorities.

“This is a sorry day for me,” U.S. District Judge James Mahan said in handing down the sentence. “As a former practitioner of the law, it grieves me deeply to see you here.”

Semenza pleaded guilty in August to three misdemeanor charges of failing to file personal and corporate income tax returns from 2006 to 2010.

As U.S. attorney from 1975 to 1977, Semenza led the tax prosecution of notorious brothel boss Joe Conforte. At the time of his presidential appointment, Semenza was 32 and considered the youngest U.S. attorney in the country.

After his days as a prosecutor, Semenza went on to have a long and successful career as a defense lawyer, often sparring in court with members of the office he once ran.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Dickinson sought a two-year prison sentence for Semenza on Wednesday, arguing he was not an ordinary tax cheat.

“He simply knew better,” Dickinson told Mahan “There’s absolutely no excuse.”

In a statement afterward, John Collins, special agent in charge of IRS Criminal Investigation for Nevada, added: “It is especially egregious that a former federal prosecutor should try to skirt his own tax obligations. American taxpayers have a right to expect that everyone will be held to the same standard of tax compliance. No one, regardless of current or former position, is above the law.”

Semenza, who appeared many times before Mahan and other judges, apologized in court and repeatedly accepted responsibility for his actions.

“I offer no excuses for my conduct,” he said. “My heart and soul have been broken.”

Semenza added that he was “embarrassed and sorry” for letting down his family and putting Mahan in the position of having to sentence him.

Defense lawyer Mark Bailus sought a sentence of five years probation with six months of home confinement, calling Semenza a man of “extraordinary character” who spent countless hours providing free legal advice to clients and doing charitable work in the community.

Semenza acknowledged that he didn’t approach his law practice as a business.

“I just practiced law to my own detriment,” he told Mahan. “I didn’t pay enough attention to it.”

According to his plea agreement, for the years 2006 through 2010, Semenza had personal taxable income of about $655,000, and his law corporation had taxable income of about $345,000.

Semenza acknowledged that he did not file individual or corporate income tax returns for those years and failed to pay the $290,009 in taxes.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.

 

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