Bel Air attorney Lester V. Jones' former tax accountant has told a federal jury that Jones "went stone-faced" and "showed no emotion" when an IRS agent revealed she had found more than $80,000 in unreported income during an audit of his 1984 tax return.
But the accountant, Ronald A. Dochter, was forced to admit repeatedly on cross-examination yesterday that he had made numerous errors on Jones' tax returns, and that he made more errors on amended returns that he charged Jones $15,000 to prepare in an attempt to lessen the attorney's tax liability after the IRS audit.
Dochter, who operates a consulting firm called Associated Business Systems in Bel Air, spent nearly two days on the witness stand at Jones' tax-evasion trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, most of it on cross-examination by defense attorney Stephen H. Sachs.
The defense contends that Jones trusted Dochter, and paid him, to prepare accurate tax returns, but that Dochter made basic mistakes that eventually led to Jones' indictment on charges of tax evasion and false reporting tied to his 1983 and 1984 taxes.
The prosecution contends that Jones raked off cash fees and cashed fee checks without reporting them, that he evaded taxes on nearly $300,000 in unreported income for 1983 and 1984, and that he falsified amended returns in an attempted cover-up.
Dochter insisted throughout his testimony that he prepared Jones' returns with income information the defendant gave him.
And, in answer to questions from prosecutor Joseph L. Evans late yesterday, Dochter said he merely transferred Jones' income figures from the lawyer's "take-off sheets" to the tax returns each year.
However, Dochter's testimony about Jones' reaction to the audit contradicted that of IRS agent Joan S. Rowe, who told the jury last week that Jones was so upset by her revelation about his unreported income that she worried he might have a heart
Dochter also denied that Jones yelled at him to "get it right" on the amended returns, which were prepared after the IRS audit.
Dochter, too, denied Sachs' accusation that he gave Rowe a letter which criticized Jones for sloppy bookkeeping in an attempt to avoid a civil lawsuit by Jones and possible fraud prosecution by the IRS for the mistakes he made on Jones' tax returns.
"No, that's not true!" the witness said to those questions, as the defense attorney tried strenuously to destroy his credibility.
Dochter admitted, however, that he failed to take thousands of dollars' worth of legitimate business and personal interest deductions on Jones' tax returns, and made other mistakes on them that Sachs said were "absurd."
In one such instance, Dochter admitted that he split Jones' law firm income between Jones and his wife, Shirley, to capitalize on the maximum $3,000 deduction for employed married couples. He attributed about $101,000 to Shirley Jones as income when in fact she had earned only about $10,000 that year.
In several other instances, Dochter admitted he failed to deduct interest and other expenses that were shown on a computer sheet generated in his own office from Jones' financial records.