Tax charges in Hunter Biden case are rarely filed, but could have deep political reverberations

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hunter Biden has been hit with new criminal charges in California accusing him of scheming to avoid paying his taxes while spending lavishly on everything from luxury hotels to escorts to exotic cars.

The president’s son is also facing separate firearm charges in Delaware, raising the possibility he could be headed toward trial in two different cases as his father, President Joe Biden, campaigns for re-election.

Some of the allegations in the 56-page indictment largely track what’s been previously aired about Hunter Biden’s life when he was in the throes of drug addiction, but the sordid new details of his personal spending and alleged scheming to avoid tax payments could add to the political complications for his father. Joe Biden looks likely to face a close presidential race where Donald Trump is the leading contender for the GOP nomination.

Defense attorney Abbe Lowell, for his part, said the taxes have since been paid and argued Hunter Biden is being targeted because of his father’s political position.

Here’s a look at the situation:

How common are cases like this?

Criminal tax cases generally are very rare, said Beverly Moran, a tax law expert at Vanderbilt University. The average American has almost as good a chance of winning the lottery as being criminally prosecuted for tax fraud, she said, based on 2021 data from the Internal Revenue Service.

“Most people who commit tax fraud go through their entire lives without anything happening. They don’t audited, they don’t get caught, they don’t get prosecuted,” she said. “But if they get prosecuted, they get convicted.”

Of the 665 cases that were referred for prosecution in 2021, about 90% resulted in a conviction, the IRS data shows.

Many tax cases, though, are resolved before charges are filed, said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and professor at Loyola Law School.

They can be hashed out in civil court, with fines and penalties, rather than with criminal charges. Trump ally Roger Stone, for example, faced a lawsuit from the Justice Department over nearly $2 million in income tax in 2021. It was settled the following year.

Tax evasion can lead to jail time, however. Actor Wesley Snipes spent three years in prison after being convicted in 2008 of three misdemeanor counts of failing to file tax returns in a case where he owed about $7 million in back taxes.

Cases against celebrities and other high-profile people can also generate attention that helps convince other people to file their taxes on time, Moran said.

What are the possible political implications?

Hunter Biden has never held political office, but the charges against him are increasingly looking like a thorny political issue for his father.

House Republicans are expected to hold a vote next week on formalizing an impeachment inquiry into President Biden, whom Republicans have sought to link to his son’s business dealings. No evidence has so far emerged to prove the president in his current or previous office abused his role or accepted bribes. However, questions have arisen about the ethics surrounding the international business dealings of Hunter and the president’s brother, James Biden.

The new criminal charges against Hunter Biden are focused on his taxes and don’t mention his father.

Still, Republicans have already seized on the salacious details of Hunter’s conduct, his murky business dealings and alleged criminal misdeeds to try to harm his father’s political standing, and the indictment pushes more detail into the conversation.

It’s taken on more urgency as Trump’s legal woes play out over his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and Republicans aim to undercut Biden’s ability to defeat his one-time rival once again. And there are indications that the strategy is working.

An October poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 35% of U.S. adults believe Joe Biden personally has done something illegal concerning the business dealings of his son. An additional 33% say the president acted unethically but did not violate the law. Just 30% say Joe Biden did nothing wrong.

What are the charges?

Hunter Biden was indicted on three felonies and six misdemeanors, including filing a false return and tax evasion felonies, as well as misdemeanor failure to file and failure to pay. Hunter Biden, 53, could receive a maximum of 17 years in prison.

The charges are centered on at least $1.4 million in taxes Hunter Biden owed between 2016 and 2019. During that time, he schemed to avoid taxes while spending money on “drugs, escorts and girlfriends, luxury hotels and rental properties, exotic cars, clothing … in short, everything but his taxes,” prosecutors wrote.

Joe Biden’s tenure as vice president ended in January 2017.

The charges were filed after the implosion of a plea deal over the summer that would have spared him jail time in exchange for guilty pleas to misdemeanor tax charges. The agreement was pilloried as a “sweetheart deal” by Republicans, including Trump.

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