May 16, 2006

“Survivor” champ sentenced in tax evasion case

By Richard C. Lewis

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island (Reuters) - Richard Hatch, the
first winner of the hit reality-television show "Survivor," was
sentenced on Tuesday to four years and three months in federal
prison for tax evasion.

Once described by a fellow contestant as a "snake," the $1
million jackpot winner on "Survivor" in 2000 also was ordered
to undergo psychological counseling upon release and file
amended income tax returns for 2000 and 2001 that fully reflect
his winnings.

U.S. District Court Judge Ernest Torres said he had
increased the sentence above a term suggested in a January
trial because he determined Hatch had lied repeatedly about his
earnings, taxes, use of charitable funds and extent of

"His testimony is replete with statements that are flatly
contradicted by credible witnesses and documented evidence,"
Torres told the courtroom.

Hatch, wearing a prison-issued orange jumpsuit with his
legs shackled but his hands uncuffed, said he could explain
every statement he made during the trial.

"I believe I've been completely truthful and completely
forthcoming throughout this entire process," he said.

It was unclear whether Hatch would appeal the punishment.

He was acquitted in January on seven of 10 counts brought
against him, including bank, mail and wire fraud charges. The
45-year-old Newport, Rhode Island, native could have faced a
maximum fine of $1.35 million and 73 years in prison if he had
been convicted on all counts.

The motivational speaker was found guilty of failing to pay
taxes on $1.43 million he earned from "Survivor" and about half
a dozen other sources.

Hatch, who frequently paraded around nude on the reality
show set on a South Pacific island, was viewed by some as a
brash, manipulative schemer, but grudgingly admired by others
for his savvy and determination to win.

He and other contestants on the first "Survivor" helped
launch reality shows as a TV phenomenon.

A grand jury investigation began in March 2005 when Hatch
backed out of a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to two
tax evasion charges that carried a maximum 10-year prison
sentence and a $500,000 fine.

His lawyers had said CBS, which broadcast the show, should
have withheld federal taxes because the network should have
classified him as an employee under California law. He said the
federal government also must shoulder some blame.

CBS has said Hatch was responsible for declaring his
winnings and paying his taxes.