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Chicago lawyer gets 15 years in big tax fraud case

NEW YORK – A Chicago-area lawyer and accountant labeled by the government as history’s most prolific and unrepentant tax cheat was sentenced Wednesday to 15 years in prison, and the judge bemoaned the “incredible greed” of some of America’s wealthiest people for taking advantage of the tax shelters he peddled.

The lawyer, Paul M. Daugerdas, 63, was also ordered to pay nearly a half-billion dollars in restitution and forfeit $164 million in cash and property. He must report to prison Sept. 18.

Daugerdas, of Wilmette, Illinois, did not speak at the sentencing. Outside court afterward, Daugerdas told The Associated Press he was “profoundly disappointed” and that it was a “sad day” for the criminal justice system.

Daugerdas earned more than $97 million as the architect of a two-decade fraud that relied on sophisticated tax shelters to shield some of the country’s richest people from paying taxes on nearly $8 billion in gains, said U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III. The government lost $1.6 billion in tax revenues as a result, the government said. Prosecutors said Daugerdas paid $8,000 in taxes when he owed $32 million.

“This case shows the astonishing lengths some super-wealthy Americans will go to avoid their obligation as citizens,” Pauley said. “Mr. Daugerdas was a tax shelter racketeer who tapped into the incredible greed of some of the country’s wealthy.”

He added: “None of them cared one whit about lying to the government.”

Daugerdas was convicted last year of helping to create tax shelters that benefited some of the world’s wealthiest investors, including the late sports entrepreneur Lamar Hunt, trust fund recipients, inventors, a grandson of the late industrialist Armand Hammer, people who built fortunes on real estate or family businesses and a man described by a prosecutor as an “accidental millionaire” because he was one of the earliest investors in Microsoft Corp.

Daugerdas was found guilty of conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud after a two-month trial, but he was acquitted of nine charges.

Pauley cited the acquittals as he declined to sentence Daugerdas to a 20-year term, which the Probation Department and prosecutors had recommended.

Prosecutors said he was the ringleader in the largest tax fraud prosecution in U.S. history.

Daugerdas is former head of the Chicago office of a once prestigious Texas-based law firm, Jenkens & Gilchrist. Pauley noted that the “firm of 600 attorneys collapsed under the weight of his acts.”

After Daugerdas was convicted three years ago, Pauley ordered a new trial because a corrupt juror had spoiled the verdict. The judge scolded prosecutors Wednesday for failing to bring criminal charges against the woman, who Pauley said had lied to get on the jury.

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