By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 9, 2006; 12:45 PM
D.C. Council member and former mayor Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) this morning was sentenced to three years probation for misdemeanor charges of failing to pay federal and local taxes.
Barry, who tested positive for cocaine and marijuana use in a court-ordered drug test last fall, will also have to submit to further drug testing, or treatment, if ordered to do so by his probation office, U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson said.
He owes $246,000 in taxes, plus interest and penalties, prosecutors said, and will have to negotiate with federal and D.C. authorities to decide how much he will pay, and how quickly.
The former four-term mayor, who turned 70 this week, meekly apologized to Robinson and the citizens of the city and the United States, saying he knew his conduct was wrong. He said he did not pay taxes from 1999 to 2004 because he was broke and is "the kind of person who spends a lot of time worrying about other people, and not taking care of myself financially."
"To this court, I apologize," Barry said in a low voice that nevertheless carried throughout the packed but silent federal courtroom. "Deeply sorry. To the citizens of the District of Columbia, I apologize."
Barry told Robinson he had completed a drug treatment program after failing the court-ordered urine analysis in November and had since submitted to a dozen or more additional tests, all of them coming back clean, he said.
He described himself as a Christian who believes in forgiveness, and reminded the court of the verses in the Book of Matthew, chapter 18, when Paul asks how many times a person should be forgiven, and Jesus answers "70 times seven."
Barry pleaded guilty in October to two misdemeanor charges of failing to pay taxes. He was supposed to be sentenced Feb. 8, but Robinson postponed it for a month because Barry was late in filing necessary paperwork with the court.
Prosecutors say Barry earned more than $530,000 during the six years in which no returns were filed. But Barry's attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., said in court that despite that income, Barry was broke and "almost paralyzed by the embarrassment of being without the means to pay his taxes."
"He regrets making a bad judgment, making a bad choice," Cooke said. "He made it out of weakness, out of a sense of embarrassment that he found himself in a position of being unable to pay his taxes."
Assistant U.S. Attorney James W. Cooper, the lead prosecutor in the case, said Barry violated the spirit, if not the letter, of his plea agreement by dragging his feet to file necessary paperwork.
Barry did not file his tax returns until the day before the original sentencing date, and then waited a month, until yesterday, to have his accountant contact the Internal Revenue Service to initiate negotiations about a payment plan.
"Mr. Barry has been, for lack of a better word, recalcitrant," said Cooper, calling Barry's behavior an insult to his own tax-paying constituents. "This is all about his failure of personal responsibility. The court should ensure that Mr. Barry is held accountable."
But at the same time, Cooper told Robinson that the U.S. government would continue to abide by its commitment -- made as part of the plea agreement -- to take no position on whether Barry should be jailed.
Barry remained composed throughout the hearing, but wiped his eyes and blew his nose briefly after Robinson imposed the sentence of probation.
Although it is not unusual for people who have failed to pay taxes to receive probation, defense attorneys interviewed about Barry's behavior said he risked a more serious sentence by appearing unresponsive or uncooperative in the weeks leading up to the hearing.