Jemison attorney found not guilty for failure to file federal income tax returns

Published 4:00 pm Monday, August 12, 2013

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A Jemison resident and Birmingham attorney was found not guilty on Friday of failing to file federal income tax returns for three consecutive years.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a three-count information in U.S. District Court charging Jonathan E. Lyerly, 65, with failing to file the income tax returns for 2005, 2006 and 2007 on gross income totaling more than $500,000.

After a weeklong jury trial in Birmingham last week with U.S. District Judge R. David Proctor, Lyerly was exonerated Friday afternoon of the misdemeanor charges filed against him.

“This was a perfect storm that I never want to happen again,” Lyerly said. “This whole thing has been going on for me and my family for four years since this started in 2009 and I am happy everything is over.”

Lyerly, who owns a home in Jemison but practices law in Birmingham where he has been in business since 1976, said the tax returns were filed, but they were filed late.

“Two years after I filed the taxes, the U.S. Attorney filed three misdemeanor accounts against me for failure to file tax returns alleging that I willfully failed to file,” Lyerly said. “I was told that if I pleaded guilty to one of the charges then the other two would be dropped. I am not going to lie to a judge so we had a trial and ultimately they found that these charges against me were ridiculous.”

One of the reasons the taxes were filed late according to Lyerly was largely due to secretarial issues from two secretaries working for Lyerly during the time the taxes were not filed.

Lyerly explained that the first secretary destroyed, hid or altered documents that hid her crime of embezzlement.

A second secretary was later hired who also failed to file income taxes for Lyerly’s law office.

Although the income taxes were later filed in 2010, Lyerly was charged in 2012 with willfully failing to file.

Both secretaries who previously worked for Lyerly were fired and Lyerly said one of the females has disappeared.

“Criminal charges were filed against her,” Lyerly said. “The police and a private detective I hired can’t find her. She has totally disappeared but embezzled a lot of money from me.”

Lyerly did not release the exact amount of money one of the secretaries embezzled from him but did confirm it was a “substantial” amount.

Now, after living through the weeklong trial and learning from the experience, Lyerly said he will continue practicing law and him and his wife, Sharon, have taken over the management at his office.

“We don’t rely on others to do the job of filing taxes,” Lyerly said. “We will always file timely. You can get in trouble with relying on others and I think it is unfortunate that they tried to criminalize me.”

Failure to file federal income tax returns carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $25,000 fine.