Lauryn N. Hill, the Grammy-winning singer, was sentenced to three months in prison followed by three months of home confinement for not filing U.S. tax returns.
Hill’s sentence came today in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, where she pleaded guilty June 29 to three misdemeanor counts, admitting she didn’t file returns for 2005, 2006 and 2007. Hill, 37, was also fined $60,000.
“She is talented, she is inspirational, and up until this case, she was a role model to many,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Madeline C. Arleo said. “Whatever the reason for not doing so, it does not explain, justify or excuse the failure to file tax returns. She was clearly aware of her tax obligations.”
Arleo rejected Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra Moser’s call for a term of three years in prison for failing to pay federal and state taxes of $1.01 million on income of $2.3 million. The judge should send a strong message that Hill “doesn’t deserve a get-out-of-jail free card,” and the system can’t allow “the rich to buy their way out of prison sentences,” Moser said.
The judge had postponed the sentencing at a hearing on April 22 after expressing her displeasure with Hill’s failure to keep her promise to make a criminal restitution payment of $504,000. At today’s hearing, Hill attorney Nathan Hochman said she paid more than $900,000, covering restitution and back taxes.
Hochman urged Arleo to sentence her to probation, citing her charitable works and family circumstances of raising six children between the ages of 20 months and 15 years old. The judge said those factors weren’t “extraordinary” under advisory guidelines calling for a sentence of 30 to 36 months.
Still, the judge elected to give her only three months, followed by a year of probation that will include three months of home confinement with electronic monitoring.
Hill won two Grammy awards in 1996 as a member of the Fugees. “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” which sold 19 million copies, won five Grammys in 1999, including album of the year, best new artist, best rhythm and blues album, best R&B song, and best female R&B vocal performance. Hochman said she released a new single over the weekend, her first in 15 years.
Hill spoke to the judge for 13 minutes, speaking of her own “sacrifice and contributions,” and her “energy and courage.”
“I’m a voice for people who don’t necessarily have a voice,” Hill said. “For that reason, I’ve been met with resistance.”
After signing a record deal as a teenager, she was “ushered into a system that I didn’t really understand,” she said. “It’s violence. It’s a need to squeeze every dime out of a talent such as myself.”
In the years she didn’t file tax returns, she had to “separate myself completely” and “take stock of my life, heal my life,” she said. “I was being conceived as a cash cow, not a person.”
“I extend myself,” she said. “Music is not something I do from 9 to 5. It’s a state of being. Like a doctor who delivers babies, I’m on call all the time.”
She said she “didn’t make music for celebrity status. I made music for artistic and existential catharsis. I carried an enormous burden. When it became overwhelming, I had to look away. When people seek to capitalize on a persona, they forget there’s a person there.”
She said she sold “50 million units” in her career.
‘Likened to Slavery’
“I sit here trying to figure out how to pay taxes,” she said. “If that’s not likened to slavery, I don’t know how.”
She lived a life of sacrifice, she said.
“I am a child of former slaves who had a system imposed on them,” she said. “I got to an economic paradigm and had them imposed on me.”
Hill said “it wasn’t a matter of if I was going to pay taxes, it was a matter of when.”
Outside the courthouse, Hochman said he won’t appeal.
“The judge imposed a fair and reasonable sentence,” Hochman said. “Miss Hill is looking forward to getting on with her life and putting this matter behind her.”
Hill lives in South Orange, New Jersey.
The case is U.S. v. Hill, 12-mj-06081, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).