Former Sacramento attorney sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison for tax evasion

Published: Tuesday, Mar. 25, 2014 - 11:23 pm

A once-prominent Sacramento attorney stood before a Sacramento federal court judge Tuesday, seemingly contrite and pleading for mercy.

In six months, Donald Wanland said he has transformed himself into a God-fearing, law-abiding man who wants to catch up on his taxes – he owes the government more than $2 million – and contribute to society. In jail, he read the Bible cover to cover for the first time, he said, and came to the realization that his tax evasion and other money-related transgressions were “motivated by greed, by selfishness, by contempt, even.”

In seeking a sentence of probation rather than the government’s recommended eight years in prison, the 56-year-old former business attorney argued that he has been persecuted enough.

“I’ve lost everything,” he said. “The things I have suffered I cannot put into words, but I want you to know I have suffered.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Segal had a decidedly different take on Wanland and the 28 tax-related crimes he committed.

“This is a man who is a narcissist sociopath,” he said. He might be extremely charismatic, Segal said of Wanland, but Segal told Judge Lawrence K. Karlton: “You have to have a good memory.”

When things got tense between Segal and defense attorney Eduardo Roy – who said the prosecutor’s “smug” behavior “sickens me” – Karlton had had enough. He handed down a sentence of 46 months without further comment and adjourned court, even as Wanland’s elderly mother stood and tried to address the judge.

“No ma’am,” he said, leaving the bench.

It was an abrupt end to a case that has dragged on for five years.

In September, a jury convicted Wanland of the 28 criminal counts, which included tax evasion, failing to file tax returns and concealing assets from the Internal Revenue Service.

Evidence at trial showed that Wanland made more than $1.5 million in income and owed $448,451 in taxes – but paid nothing. From 2004 to 2007, he didn’t file any returns, despite making more than $1 million during that time. Meanwhile, he was spending freely on luxury car payments, Las Vegas bets, vacations to Mexico and Hawaii, limousine travel and bills associated with the pool at his El Dorado Hills home.

Wanland ultimately filed for bankruptcy protection, raising the question of whether his debts were cleared as a result. The court rejected that notion Tuesday, and the government is expected to pursue civil action to collect on those debts.

Prosecutors Segal and Christopher Hales argued that Wanland’s defiance of the law was particularly shameful given the professional oath he took to uphold the law.

“Defendant is a person of extremely poor character,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed late last month. “His view of the world essentially seems to be that the rules are for suckers and, as to him, the law is just a suggestion.”

In court, Segal tried to rebuke the notion that Wanland was a changed man, pointing out that after his indictment, he repeatedly asked for continuances in the case so he could represent his clients in court. Clearly still employed, Wanland nonetheless neglected to file returns reflecting that income, Segal charged.

“He didn’t learn anything,” he said, pointing at Wanland.

In court documents, Roy countered that image, saying his client already was paying the price for his crimes.

“His life is already in shambles,” he wrote. “Mr. Wanland has lost the law practice from which he derived his income, and will almost certainly lose his license to practice after 28 years as a member of the bar.”

But when he suggested in court Tuesday that a sentence of time served and probation would be appropriate, Karlton was incredulous.

“That’ll be the day,” he interrupted.

“Excuse me, your honor?” Roy asked.

“Nothing,” Karlton replied, then: “I might as well be candid. It’s not going to happen.”

Later Tuesday, Roy said he believed the sentence was unfair, but said he believes he will prevail on appeal.

“Everyone was disappointed, simply because the legal arguments we had were very strong,” Roy said. “I think the judge kind of recognized that and sort of split the baby.”

Asked about his displeasure over what he charged was Segal’s “smug” behavior – a comment that elicited some gasps from people in the audience – Roy said he was going to say more, but stopped himself.

“I didn’t think it would do my client much good,” he said.

Call The Bee’s Kim Minugh, (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter @Kim_Minugh.

Read more articles by Kim Minugh

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