Defense attorney Jason Williams, who is running for a seat on the New Orleans City Council, failed to pay $106,000 in federal taxes from 2001 to 2008, according to federal liens filed with the city.

Williams said he had made good on more than $70,000 of that, and he has disputed the remainder.

The Lens recently reported that two mayoral challengers, former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris and local NAACP president Danatus King, ran up tens of thousands of dollars in tax debt. They’ve since paid them off.

A review of records related to everyone running for office in New Orleans turned up similar issues for several City Council candidates. Williams, who is running for an open, at-large seat, racked up the largest debts, and those liens are still outstanding.

”I was in the process of making good-faith payments until Hurricane Katrina in 2005. At that time, my law practice was forced to suspend operations like many other local businesses.”—City Council candidate Jason Williams

 According to a lien filed in 2007, Williams ran up more than $89,130 in federal income tax debt from 2001 through 2003, including more than $57,000 in 2003 alone. A second federal lien, filed in 2011, sought nearly $17,000 for 2005 to 2008.

Williams told the Lens that he had disputed how much the Internal Revenue Service claimed he owed for 2001 through 2003.

“However, regardless of the dispute, I was in the process of making good-faith payments until Hurricane Katrina in 2005,” Williams said by email. “At that time, my law practice was forced to suspend operations like many other local businesses.  I also suspended payments due from my clients that were also severely affected by Katrina.”

He said he and his family were forced to leave town, and he had no way to continue making payments.

“Since then, the IRS has re-evaluated and reduced the amounts owed for 2001 and 2002 and subsequently refund credits have been made to me. To date, I have paid in excess of $70,000.00. The remaining portion is still in dispute and we are working with the Federal Government to come to an amicable resolution,” Williams wrote.

Williams isn’t the only City Council candidate with federal tax problems. In 1991 and 2008, the IRS placed tax liens on the assets of District E Councilman James Gray — an attorney running for his first full term after being elected to Jon Johnson’s seat — and his wife, Juvenile Court Judge Ernestine Gray.

The earlier debt — $12,166 for their 1987 and 1988 taxes —  was released after a piece of property owned by the Grays was seized in 1992. The 2008 lien — $6,320 owed for the 2003 tax year — was released in 2009.

Gray did not respond to several phone and email requests for comment.

District A City Council challenger David Capasso, another attorney, said he was not aware of a state income tax lien totalling $4,389 for the 1998 and 1999 tax years. That lien, filed in 2002, still appears to be active.

He said he opened his own firm in 1999 and got an accountant in 2001 or 2002. “I was paying my taxes regularly. I never got a notice,” Capasso said.

“That’s from back in my bachelor years,” he said, laughing. “I’ve always made a pretty modest, low salary pretty much until I got married.”

And city records show that Carlos Williams, who is vying for the open District C seat, owed state income taxes for nearly every year from 1996 to 2011, except 1997 and 2007. The total: $27,913.

Records show that all of those debts have been cancelled, but Williams disputed the accuracy of the records. He said he knows only of liens for the tax years 2000 to 2006 and 2008. He provided a document from the state Department of Revenue showing that he had owed taxes for those years.

Though the Department of Revenue’s lien claims he owed $19,380 for 2009 to 2011, he said that’s his ex-wife’s debt, not his. That lien shows an address in Harvey, where he said his ex-wife lives.

“I’ve lived here in Algiers the whole time,” Carlos Williams said in a phone interview. He could not explain why back taxes from 1996 to 1999 appear on another lien, but insisted it was wrong.

As for the tax years he did not dispute — 2000 to 2008 — Carlos Williams said he discovered the problem only after his divorce was finalized in 2010.

“My wife took care of the finances. I was not aware of that,” he said adding that he began paying off the debt as soon as he learned about it.

“I’m not blaming it all on her. I take responsibility, but when you’re married, you trust your partner,” he said. “I thought she did a great job until I found out otherwise. When I got the notice, I immediately contacted the state.”

The Lens was not able to reach his ex-wife for comment.

Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado is the editor of The Lens. He previously worked as The Lens' government accountability reporter, covering local politics and criminal justice. Prior to joining The Lens, he worked for...