WASHINGTON – It was a $100 million mistake, and a federal judge said Friday he doesn’t have the power to fix it.
The Justice Department goofed last year and cited the wrong law in a binding plea agreement with telecommunication entrepreneur Walter Anderson, the largest tax scofflaw in U.S. history. That mistake made it impossible for the government to recover between $100 million and $175 million, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman said in March.
Prosecutors urged him to reconsider but Friedman reluctantly said Friday that his hands were tied.
“The court is not free to read something into a contract that is not there or to interpret uncertain language in the government’s favor,” Friedman said.
Though prosecutors described the error as “a typo” and not “something that the court should be getting wrapped up about,” Friedman reluctantly said his hands were tied.
He said he would have worked around the problem by ordering Anderson to repay the money as part of his probation. But prosecutors omitted any discussion of probation – a common element of plea deals – from Anderson’s paperwork.
Friedman sentenced Anderson in March to nine years in prison ordered him to repay $23 million to the District of Columbia but ordered no restitution to the federal government.
Prosecutors have promised that the IRS would sue Anderson in civil court to try to recover the money. That will require a new round of litigation in a court that does not wield the threat of more jail time. Prosecutors have said that Anderson has money stashed away in accounts around the world, a claim Anderson denied in court.