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Los Angeles

Former Mayor Admits Income Tax Evasion

Crime: Under terms of a plea agreement, federal prosecutors will urge zero to six months in custody for the onetime Carson official.

August 10, 2002|DAVID ROSENZWEIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former Carson Mayor Michael Mitoma has agreed to plead guilty to failing to pay $3,846 in federal income tax on his official salary in 1995 and 1996, the U.S. attorney's office said Friday.

In exchange for his plea to two misdemeanors in the tax case, prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence for Mitoma ranging from zero to six months in custody.

"This is a crime of oversight," said his lawyer, Paul Potter. "He filed for extensions both times, but he never got around to following through. Once you step off the track, sometimes it's hard to get back on."

But in a signed plea agreement, Mitoma acknowledged that his failure to pay the taxes was the result of willful evasion rather than an oversight or mistake.

A Republican businessman who arranges joint ventures between Asian and U.S. companies, Mitoma figured in the 1996 Democratic presidential campaign fund-raising scandal.

That year, he negotiated a $250,000 donation to the Democratic National Committee from a South Korean client who wanted to dine with President Clinton.

Mitoma's client, John K.H. Lee, flew from Seoul to Washington for the meeting. But he wound up getting nothing more than a handshake and a photo opportunity with the president during a fund-raising gala at a hotel.

The Democrats were later forced to return the money. Foreign citizens who are not permanent residents are barred from contributing to U.S. election campaigns.

The deal announced Friday calls for Mitoma to make restitution to the U.S. Treasury for the unpaid taxes.

According to the plea agreement, the restitution amount could also include losses arising from charges that are not being prosecuted by the government.

The plea agreement did not elaborate, but Potter said there may be a third year in which Mitoma did not pay the full amount of taxes owed.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Andrew Cowan, who is handling the case for the prosecutor's public corruption and government fraud section, declined to elaborate on the plea agreement. But, he said, "our investigation focused on violations of U.S. tax laws."

No date has been set for Mitoma to enter his plea, Cowan said.

Mitoma served seven years as mayor, a part-time job that paid about $16,000 annually.

He was defeated in a 1997 reelection effort and staged an unsuccessful comeback attempt last year.

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