Jury deliberations resumed Wednesday in the federal trial of New Orleans district attorney Jason Williams, who was elected to be the city’s top prosecutor in December 2020 despite having been indicted months earlier on tax charges.
Williams and Nicole Burdett, who was an attorney in his law practice, were accused in an indictment of conspiring to cheat on Williams’ taxes during a five-year period ending in 2017. Prosecutors said Williams’ tax burden was illegally cut by $200,000.
Prosecutors rested their case Tuesday morning, a week after the trial began. Prosecution witnesses included the tax preparer, Henry Timothy, who was cooperating with prosecutors after pleading guilty to a single tax charge.
The defense rested Tuesday morning as well, without calling witnesses. Williams has long contended that the prosecution was politically motivated. Defense attorneys have portrayed Timothy as a fraud while attacking his credibility, and questioned why others whose taxes were prepared by Timothy weren’t criminally prosecuted.
Williams and Burdett each faced a count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, five counts involving preparation of fraudulent returns and four counts of failing to file forms regarding large cash transactions. In addition to a possible prison sentence, Williams would face automatic suspension from his elective post if convicted of a felony, under state law.
Williams was a criminal defense lawyer and member of the New Orleans City Council before he became district attorney.
Federal authorities had already filed the tax charges against Williams when he signed up in July 2020 to run for the post then held by Leon Cannizzaro. Cannizzaro opted not to seek a third term and Williams won out over a field that included two city judges.
He has won praise from many of the criminal justice reform advocates who helped elect him for efforts to review cases for possible wrongful convictions and for taking a new look at felony convictions based on 10-2 or 11-1 verdicts that are no longer legal in state law. But pandemic-era crime in the city has increased significantly and he’s been criticized for measures including a prohibition on using habitual offender charges to get longer sentences for people convicted.