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Briber acquitted of tax evasion

By JEFF TESTERMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 3, 2001


TAMPA -- Friday morning, attorney Frank Winkles stood before 12 jurors who had already convicted his client of four crimes this week and asked them to set aside their "biases" on a remaining charge of income tax evasion.

Jurors did just that.

One hour and 43 minutes after retiring to deliberate, the jury, which convicted C. Hayward Chapman on Wednesday of giving illegal gratuities to a public official, returned a not guilty verdict on a charge that he evaded $843,957 in income taxes in 1997.

"That was the right decision," Winkles said. "Mr. Chapman feels wonderful about it."

The tax evasion charge represented the 126th and final count in a bribery and kickback case against Chapman, 64, a Tampa developer, Audley Evans, 48, the former executive director of the Tampa Housing Authority, and Dr. Patrick Watson, 43, a Tampa doctor.

In a trial that began Feb. 6, government prosecutors attempted to prove Watson and Chapman paid bribes to Evans in return for contracts in a conspiracy to subvert the bidding process at the Housing Authority.

After three weeks of testimony, U.S. District Judge James S. Moody dismissed all charges against Watson, remarking on the strictly circumstantial nature of evidence against him.

Jurors returned guilty verdicts on 15 counts against Evans for conspiracy, bribery, taking illegal gratuities and making false statements to a federal agency.

The jury also convicted Chapman of paying illegal gratuities to Evans while Evans headed the non-profit Meridian River Development Corp.

Finally, in a second trial lasting two days, the jury voted Friday to acquit Chapman on the tax charge.

The final tally from the 126-count indictment: convictions on 19 counts, acquittals on 67 counts, 40 counts thrown out by the judge.

After finally being dismissed Friday, jurors declined to talk to reporters and hurried off.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill referred questions to a spokesman, who said the government was "very pleased" with the trial's outcome.

On the income tax charge, the government contended Chapman never filed an income tax return on about $1.5-million earned at Bradley and Bradley Development and channeled into Concorde, two companies he had set up for his daughter, Terry Keirn, and her husband, Stephen Keirn.

But a tax attorney called by Winkles testified it was perfectly legal for the $1.5-million to be paid to Bradley and Bradley shareholder Stephen Keirn and for Keirn to transfer that money to Terry Keirn, Concorde's sole shareholder.

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