Sentencing in the federal tax evasion case against singer Lauryn Hill, who rose to fame as part of The Fugees and for her 1998 solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, was adjourned Monday until May 6 after a dispute arose over how much she actually owes.
The 37-year-old singer and South Orange resident pleaded guilty in June 2012 to failing to pay taxes on $1.8 million in income earned in 2005, 2006 and 2007. The eight-time Grammy winner earned most of that income from music and film royalties and also owned at least four businesses.
Sitting in Newark federal court, Judge Madeline Cox Arleo took Hill to task for failing to pay off the more than $500,000 in federal taxes she owes despite earlier promises to do so before her sentencing Monday. Arleo also noted that Hill has millions of dollars in real-estate equity and an income stream from royalties, as well as money coming from a recording contract she recently signed with Sony.
“This is one of the critical issues for me to depart from the sentencing in the absence of action,” Arleo also said, adding, “There are substantial assets here.”
Hill’s attorney Nathan Hochman said, however, that Hill had actually made a $50,000 payment towards her balance and will soon pay back the rest with funds from a loan.
Hochman asked the judge to adjourn the sentencing a few more weeks, arguing that Hill did not receive a $1 million payment from the recording contract because she failed to produce the five songs that were required under the deal.
Hill, who was dressed in a long gray sweater and a white silk blouse, remained largely silent during the 45-minute proceeding, only speaking briefly to Hochman and an assistant sitting nearby.
Also at issue was how much Hill personally owes — a factor that could affect the amount of time she spends in prison. The government argued Monday that taxes assessed against her corporations should count towards her total liability, which, with state personal income taxes included, brings Hill’s total obligation to just over $1 million.
Hochman argued, however, that taxes assessed against her corporations should not count against Hill personally and that she owes just $968,000. Sentencing guidelines state that a liability of less than $1 million means a defendant can serve anywhere from 24 to 30 months in jail, a range that rises to between 30 and 36 months for an obligation of more than $1 million.
Arleo granted the adjournment to give both sides time to prepare their arguments over the issue.
At the time of her guilty plea last June, Hill said via her Tumblr account that the years in question were a “period of crisis” for her.
“Having put the lives and needs of other people before my own for multiple years, and having made hundreds of millions of dollars for certain institutions, under complex and sometimes severe circumstances, I began to require growth and more equitable treatment, but was met with resistance,” she wrote, adding that she had deliberately retreated from the limelight.
Since her late 90s heyday, Hill has concentrated on raising her six children, five of whom she had with Rohan Marley, son of legendary reggae singer Bob Marley.