Five-time Grammy-Award winning singer Lauryn Hill, has been targeted for tax evasion by the federal government because she's a celebrity, her lawyer said Friday.
Hill, best known for her Grammy-winning 1998 solo album, "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," pleaded guilty to willfully failing to file tax returns from 2005 to 2007, despite earning an income of more than $1.8 million primarily from music and film royalties, Reuters reported.
Each count of tax evasion carries a maximum potential penalty of one year in prison plus fines and court costs. She could face up to three years in prison.
Before entering the guilty plea, the Newark Star-Ledger reports, U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp asked Hill if anyone forced her — either directly or indirectly — to plead guilty.
The 37-year-old South Orange native, dressed in a navy blue blazer, white shirt, and a long, coral skirt, cinched at the waist with a wide coral belt, took a long pause before replying, "Directly, no, but indirectly, yes."
The judge tried again, asking the question a second time.
Before answering, Hill turned and consulted with her attorney, Nathan Hochman.
"No," she said.
"Ms. Hill is very particular about language," Hochman explained. "Language is very important to Ms. Hill."
According to the AP, the former Fugees front woman, who waived her right to a trial, admitted to Shipp that she didn't pay taxes on $818,000 earned in 2005, $222,000 in 2006 and $761,000 in 2007.
"In addition to being an entertainer," U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said in a Justice Department press release. "Hill owned and operated four different corporations."
But Hochman said being a celebrity makes Hill a target.
"There are many people in society who fail to file their taxes on time who only face civil liability," said Hochman, according to Newark's Star-Ledger. "They chose Ms. Hill in particular because of who she was."
Why I did not file taxes
While Hill is hardly alone when it comes to celebrity tax evasion, Hill is among the first to admit to "deferring" tax payments only "when it was necessary to withdraw from society in order to guarantee the safety and well-being of myself and my family."
The above words are part of lengthy statement (1273 words) that showed up on Tumblr Friday (June 8), a day after charges were announced.
It was reported yesterday that Ms. Lauryn Hill has been charged with three counts of misdemeanor failure to file taxes. These charges were incurred for the years of 2005-2007, during a time in which Ms. Hill had removed herself and her family from society, in order to keep them safe, healthy, and free from danger. In response to these charges, Ms. Hill has issued the following statement ...
In it, she railed against manipulation by "a media-protected military industrial complex" and she decried pop culture's "climate of hostility, false entitlement, manipulation, racial prejudice, sexism and ageism."
"So I left a more mainstream and public life, in order to wean both myself, and my family, away from a lifestyle that required distortion and compromise as a means for maintaining it," she added.
But when she told this to the IRS she ran into problems:
I conveyed all of this when questioned as to why I did not file taxes during this time period. Obviously, the danger I faced was not accepted as reasonable grounds for deferring my tax payments, as authorities, who despite being told all of this, still chose to pursue action against me, as opposed to finding an alternative solution.
Now, to repay the government the money she owes, in order to "make the government whole," Hill will have to amp up her work schedule, Hochman said, according to The Ledger.
But make no mistake, "Ms. Hill is touring for no other reason than that she is a musician. She will use some of the money earned to pay off what she owes," he said.
Not mental health counseling
Hochman also made sure to clarify the difference between mental health counseling as ordered by the judge and family counseling that Hochman says Hill has had for the past ten years.
"This is not mental health counseling, this is family counseling," Hochman told reporters outside the court, according to the Chicago Tribune. "Ms. Hill is very particular about language."
Hochman's comment appeared to contradict statements reported by news media. According to Reuters, Hill was released on $150,000 bail on the condition that she must undergo mental health counseling.
The Newark Star-Ledger reported that the singer-songwriter appeared startled when Shipp ordered her to undergo mental health counseling as directed by pre-trial intervention services.
Through her attorney, Hill asked the judge to clarify what he meant by the word "directed."
"I want to make sure you understand that term," Shipp said.
"I don’t understand that term," Hill responded.
It is unclear why court mandated counseling is required for Hill and the judge refused to clarify any further, the Ledger says.
The “Lost One” singer, who has six children, five of whom she had with Rohan Marley, the son of famed reggae singer Bob Marley, is scheduled to appear in court for sentencing on Nov. 27, 2012.