A former airline pilot who fled the country for eight months to avoid prosecution was sentenced Friday to three months in jail and five years' probation for failing to file federal income tax returns for the years 1980 through 1982.
U.S. Magistrate Roger C. McKee told Peter W. Sieber Jr., 51, formerly of Coronado, that his sentence was conditional upon his paying all taxes for the years 1978 through 1985, plus penalties and interest to be determined by the Internal Revenue Service.
Assistant U.S. Atty. John Kraemer said that Sieber, who pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges, owes the federal government $842,328.
Sieber's attorney, Robert Fellmeth, said the amount owed is substantially less but that he could not give an exact amount because of questions about profits Sieber received from investments. Fellmeth said Sieber, who was taken immediately into custody, has paid the $190,000 principal amount he owes for the years 1980 through 1982.
Sieber was earning nearly $100,000 annually after 20 years of flying for PSA. He faces similar charges for failing to file state income tax returns for the years 1981 through 1983. Fellmeth said he hopes to arrange a plea agreement before May 19, when that case is scheduled to go to trial in Superior Court.
Sieber, who also holds Swiss citizenship, fled to Switzerland last June, five months after the state income tax charges were filed. He voluntarily returned in February, one month after the federal charges were filed.
"I was in a tax bracket where I had to work nearly all year just to pay my taxes, which is something that kind of grabs your attention, but I realize now I was wrong in my actions," Sieber told McKee.
Kraemer contended that Sieber has $280,000 in a Swiss bank account and may have access to more money because "we do know he could get us $190,000 in a matter of weeks."
But Sieber told McKee those large sums of money were mainly paper profits, saying, "I never had any of that money in my hands."
Kraemer urged a one-year sentence for Sieber, arguing that the defendant "led the IRS on a paper chase" and "waged a persistent letter-writing campaign with the IRS to avoid paying taxes."
Fellmeth argued that the government could have placed a lien on Sieber's wages at any time during the last few years and that having Sieber serve time in jail would only delay his paying what he owes.
Fellmeth said Sieber's status at the airline has remained in question since his abrupt departure from the United States. McKee ordered Sieber to continue to seek reinstatement at his former level of seniority to enable him to pay the government.