Judge: Fraud charges should stand against former UK basketball player

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Wire-fraud charges should not be dismissed against a former University of Kentucky men’s basketball player accused of failing to pay income taxes, a federal judge has recommended.

An attorney for Randolph Morris had argued that the charges constituted an overreach of federal authority and were not consistent with policy, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Matthew A. Stinnett ruled the charges were proper.

Stinnett’s ruling is not the final word, but rather a recommendation to U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves to keep the charges in place.

Federal district judges often follow such recommendations from magistrate judges.

Morris, now 35, played at UK from 2004 to 2007, earning a First Team All-SEC selection as a junior when he averaged 16.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots a game.

He left school to play in the National Basketball Association, first with the New York Knicks and then the Atlanta Hawks. He played in China for the Beijing Ducks from 2010 through 2017, earning more than $13 million in salary and bonuses in that time, according to a court record.

Earlier this year, a federal grand jury charged that he didn’t report his income from China on tax returns, allegedly shorting Kentucky of a total of more than $400,000 from 2015 through 2017.

He faces three counts of wire fraud, based on filing tax returns electronically those years. He also faces eight counts of making false statements for allegedly not including his income in China on his federal tax returns from 2011 through 2018.

Morris has pleaded not guilty.

In addition to seeking dismissal of the wire-fraud charges, Morris’ attorney argued that prosecutors should not be allowed to use any information that Morris gave Internal Revenue Service agents during an interview in September 2018.

Two agents, Jeff Laber and Gordon Amegboh, talked to Morris over a video call facilitated by Morris’ wife. The agents were at Morris’ home in Lexington and he was in a hotel room in China.

The video stopped working during the call, but the agents talked to Morris using audio only, according to the court record.

Morris’ attorney, Patrick A. Mullin, argued in a motion that the statement Morris gave should be suppressed because the IRS agents did not advise him of his right not to speak with them or warn him that if he did, anything he said could be used against him.

Mullin also argued that Morris’ statement to the agents was not reliable because of the technical problems and that his statement was not voluntary.

The motion said the interview was a “frightening and disturbing situation” for Morris because the agents were in his home with his wife. That meant he didn’t feel free to end the interview, so in effect was in custody and should have been read his rights to not speak and to have a lawyer present, Mullin argued.

Prosecutors argued in response that Morris was not in custody and could have ended the interview at any time and that he talked to the agents voluntarily.

Morris was the one who suggested they talk by video chat from his home after Laber initially called him, according to prosecutors.

At the time, Morris was 32, with three years of college and extensive experience in international travel, prosecutors said, suggesting he was savvy enough to end the interview if that’s what he wanted.

Stinnett said in his recommendation that Morris was not in custody for the purposes of the agents being required to advise him of his rights.

Morris invited the agents to his house and took steps with his wife to set up the call while he was alone in his hotel room thousands of miles away, Stinnett said.

“Any reasonable person in his position would have felt at liberty to simply end the conversation or to ask the agents to leave his home,” Stinnett said.

Stinnett also said the IRS agents did not engage in threatening or intimidating behavior. He recommended against suppressing Morris’ statement to agents.

The agents said in a summary of the interview that Morris gave conflicting information about paying taxes, saying at one point he understood that U.S. citizens must report income from overseas, but at another point saying he didn’t think he needed to report his income from China because he thought the team was paying tax on it there.

Morris said he might have made mistakes on his U.S. returns, but wasn’t “trying to circumvent the system,” the agents said in the summary.

The wire-fraud charges against Morris carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

He is scheduled for trial in September.

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