PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Prosecutors urged a federal appeals court Friday to uphold the tax evasion conviction of "Survivor" winner Richard Hatch, saying he had an opportunity to testify about why he thought the show's producers would pay his taxes, but never took it.
Hatch, who became known as the "naked fat guy" for refusing to wear clothes on the CBS reality TV show, was convicted last year of failing to pay taxes on the $1 million prize he won on the debut season of "Survivor." He was sentenced to more than four years in prison.
Hatch's lawyer says his client caught producers cheating by smuggling food to other contestants during taping of the show, and that they promised to pay his taxes if he won the competition.
A CBS spokesman has said Hatch's claims have no merit.
Defense lawyer Michael Minns raised the cheating allegations with U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres during a break in testimony and outside the jury's presence. But he never asked Hatch about it when Hatch was on the witness stand.
Minns argued in his appeal that Torres improperly prevented him from pursuing that line of questioning and said the issue was crucial to the defense because it would have established why Hatch believed he didn't need to pay his taxes.
But federal prosecutors, in a brief filed Friday with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said Torres told Minns several times that he could present evidence that "Survivor" producers promised to pay his taxes.
"What the court was unwilling to tolerate was a sideshow concerning whether the producers helped other contestants cheat, divorced from the key defense predicate: that this had all led to the alleged promise," the prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors said Minns simply chose not to ask Hatch about the alleged quid-pro-quo arrangement.
"Counsel's failure cannot be transformed into an abuse of discretion by the court," the prosecutors wrote.
In addition, they said, Minns never asked Mark Burnett, the producer who Hatch says made the promise, about the purported deal when he took the stand as the government's first witness.
In May, Torres sentenced Hatch to 51 months in prison after first saying he expected to sentence him to 33 to 41 months. Torres said he added extra time because he believed Hatch had lied on the stand.
Besides his "Survivor" winnings, Hatch, 45, of Newport, was also convicted of evading taxes on $327,000 he earned as co-host of a Boston radio show and $28,000 in rent on property he owed. He was acquitted of seven bank, mail and wire fraud charges that related to his charity, Horizon Bound, an outdoors program he planned to open for troubled youth.