Shortly before his trial—for wire fraud and willfully making false statements on his tax returns—started last Friday, former New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks center Randolph Morris received mixed news from U.S. District Court Judge Danny Reeves. The judge permitted federal prosecutors to introduce damaging evidence of Morris’ tax returns and life insurance policy but also tentatively allowed Morris to show emails that might cast doubt on his intent to defraud.
Morris, who the government says earned $13.3 million in salary and bonuses by playing for the Beijing Ducks between 2010 and 2017, is accused of not reporting his China income. During an unconventional FaceTime interview with two IRS special agents in 2018—the agents were in Morris’ Kentucky home while he was in a hotel in China—Morris allegedly acknowledged he knew had a legal duty to report and failed to meet that duty.
Morris faces 11 charges. If convicted, he would face a possible maximum sentence that exceeds 80 years in prison. Although Morris wouldn’t receive anywhere near the maximum sentence, the 35-year-old could be sentenced to years behind bars.
The date for Morris’ jury trial had been rescheduled several times but began in Lexington with jury selection. The trial is expected to last three to four days.
Morris sought a court order that would deem his 2010 to 2014 Kentucky tax returns inadmissible character evidence. These returns aren’t part of his wire fraud charges, which concern 2015 to 2017.
Character evidence is generally inadmissible. However, Judge Reeves deemed the returns admissible on several grounds. First, the judge noted the returns “are temporally connected with [the federal tax return] charges because they are state tax returns for the same tax years as the federal tax returns charged in the Indictment” and “arise from the same events”—namely how Morris prepared his taxes in 2010 to 2014.
The judge added the returns “are probative” since “they demonstrate that Morris did not intend to report his income earned in China on any tax return, state or federal, for tax years 2010 through 2014.” The returns also “complete the story of all tax reporting for the years 2010 through 2017. . . . Morris did not suddenly decide to omit his foreign income on state tax returns for tax years 2015 through 2017.”
Judge Reeves also deemed admissible Morris allegedly reporting to his insurance company that he earned $1.25 million in salary during 2012 and 2013 and that his employer was the Chinese team. The disclosure was made in an application for a policy with $2 million in benefits. In stark contrast, Morris’ federal income tax returns for tax years 2012 and 2013 “demonstrate,” the judge noted, “that he reported no foreign wages or salaries those years.”
Morris, however, learned that he might be able to show jurors copies of certain emails. While Judge Reeves deemed some of Morris’ emails inadmissible, others—including portions of Morris’ exchanges in 2010 and 2021 with his agent, Wallace Prather, as well as his accountant and father—were found potentially admissible should they be authenticated.
For instance, Morris seemed interested in his tax responsibilities when he emailed Prather such questions as, “Do you know what tax forms are affiliated with my income when the Chinese team pays them this year? 1099 or W-2?” and “Can we make a plan of action and be proactive with the taxes for 2011?”
Morris and Prather also had the following, seemingly prophetic, email exchange on April 4, 2011:
Morris: “When the Chinese team said they would pay my taxes it’s the American ones right? That’s what it means by tax free? What has been your experience with this?”
Prather: “Dudes don’t even report that [expletive] in America. Or they report less. But if you have an issue, then the team will be asked for a frm [sic] to show your tax people. America and [C]hina have a treaty together so they [sic] tax break is monstrous.”
Morris: “How should I report my income?”
Prather: “Either don’t or correlate [sic] with the team (I will).”
Morris: “Hope they don’t audit the [expletive] outta my [expletive] . . . “
Morris’ emails with his accountant could also be interpreted as trying to figure out what he needed for tax preparation. For example, in 2011, he emailed that his potential deductions totaled just under $40,000 and explained the amount reflected “agent fees, church donation, visa and personal training.” Morris added he hoped these expenses met applicable criteria for deductions. That same year he also asked, “Were you able to research the tax agreements between the U.S. and China[?]”.
In 2010, Morris emailed his father, Ralph Morris, with frustrations about his accountant. The younger Morris complained that the accountant had sent him someone else’s tax return. He asked his dad to call or email the accountant. “What should I do about my taxes this year[?],” Morris emailed his dad the following April. Morris assumed the accountant “has all my w-2s from the NBA.” He went on to mention to his dad, “I have some tax deductible items. How do you think I should report them?”
While Morris retained an accountant for several years, prosecutors say he also prepared his own tax returns using H&R Block’s online tax preparation program.
On Friday, a jury was impaneled. The trial resumed Monday at 9 a.m.