Richard Hatch deserves a new trial on charges he failed to pay taxes on his $1 million "Survivor" prize because a judge improperly kept him from testifying about claims of cheating on the CBS reality series, his lawyer told an appeals court Thursday.
Hatch, 45, was convicted last year of tax evasion and sentenced to more than four years in prison. He is serving his sentence at a minimum-security prison in Morgantown, W.Va.
His attorney, Michael Minns, told a three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Hatch testified he thought CBS or show producers were responsible for paying his taxes. Minns said Hatch wasn't allowed during the trial to explain why — and that hurt his defense.
"The jury knew what our position was, they just couldn't accept it," Minns told the judges, arguing that jurors needed to hear Hatch's explanation to acquit him.
Prosecutors said Hatch had an opportunity to testify about cheating, but his lawyer never asked the question.
"There's no specific point where he asks about a quid-pro-quo deal," Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Lockhart said in an interview.
During the trial, Minns told the judge outside the presence of the jury that Hatch caught show employees slipping other contestants food so Hatch would lose. Minns said Hatch made a deal with the show's producers: he wouldn't tell, and in return they would pay his taxes if he ultimately won.
Judge Ernest Torres prevented Minns from asking Hatch several questions about how scenes were edited, changing contest rules and how Hatch was once bitten by a shark while fishing. But the judge said Hatch could present evidence on why he thought he didn't have to pay taxes, according to a trial transcript.
In front of the jury, Minns never asked Hatch or show producer Mark Burnett — with whom he allegedly made the deal — about the allegations when they were on the stand.
CBS, a division of CBS Corp., has said Hatch's claims have no merit. The judges on the appeals court did not say when they would rule.
Hatch was also convicted of evading taxes on $327,000 he earned as co-host of a Boston radio show and $28,000 in rent he received on property he owned.