A jury in Lexington, Ky., on Thursday returned not guilty verdicts on the 11 counts former NBA player Randolph Morris faced for wire fraud and willfully making false statements on his tax returns.
The case centered on Morris, a former New York Knick and Atlanta Hawk who earned $13.3 million in salary and bonuses by playing for the Beijing Ducks between 2010 and 2017, neither reporting his Chinese income nor paying U.S. taxes on that income. The former University of Kentucky star, if convicted, could have faced a maximum possible prison sentence that exceeded 80 years.
As first reported by Sportico, the case involved an unusual fact pattern wherein FBI special agents conducted a FaceTime interview with Morris from his home in Lexington while he was in China. During the interview, Morris—according to the agents’ written account—acknowledged awareness of a duty to report his income and that he had failed to do so. But according to Morris, the FaceTime interview, which occurred around midnight where Morris was staying, had technical problems with the Internet cutting in and out. He also claimed to have suffered from jetlag.
The government’s case against Morris was complicated by the confusion the player expressed in emails about his tax responsibilities as well as questionable advice he received about those taxes. Most notably, in a series of 2011 emails with his agent, Wallace Prather, Morris seemed interested in complying with the law. He also asked questions that didn’t yield helpful answers:
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] . . . “
During the trial, Morris, 35, took the stand. Per Jeremy Chisenhall of the Lexington Herald-Leader, Morris told jurors he repeatedly tried to get tax documents from the Ducks, to no avail. Morris’ attorney, Patrick Mullin, also insisted Morris had not “concocted a scheme.”
The government had to convince jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that Morris knowingly defrauded the government. The jurors weren’t persuaded.