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Binary Man: Should Marion Barry Go To Jail?

Should Marion Barry go to jail for failing--yet again--to file his tax returns?

His last stint in the clink didn't seem to have much of an impact on the former mayor. As recently as 2005, he tested positive for marijuana and cocaine use. And in 2002, U.S. Park Police said they found crack cocaine and pot in Barry's Jaguar.

Should Barry be jailed for doing yet again exactly what got him placed on probation in 2006? That time, after he failed to file federal and D.C. income tax returns from 1999 to 2004, a federal judge let him off. The Ward 8 D.C. Council member walked out of the courthouse smiling and laughing.

As is his wont, Binary Man sees only two options here: Jail or permission from the judge to continue thumbing his nose at the system even as Barry continues to serve as a public official. Fining Barry wouldn't make sense; he has little in the way of assets and he has proven throughout his career that he is not driven by any desire to get rich. Even as people all around him were ransacking the public treasury during his many years in power, Barry has always led a modest, even barebones, lifestyle.

The two main questions here are 1) Is it necessary and important to jail Barry to maintain or restore some credibility to the government's efforts to make everyone pay taxes? and 2) Should Barry be treated the same as you or I would be in the same situation, or should he get the Tom Daschle-Timothy Geithner special treatment?

Barry, of course, is already busy trying to muddy the waters. In a friendly interview with Channel 9's Bruce Johnson, Barry reveals that he didn't file his tax returns because "I was just distracted"--a standard Barry line, but with a new twist: "I'm getting ready to get a kidney transplant." Turns out the former mayor is undergoing dialysis--three days a week, four hours a day--and has identified a donor for a transplant.

"That's no excuse" for not filing his taxes, he concedes, "but that's the reason."

(Channel 9 was so impressed with itself for scoring the interview that it has plastered a big fat red 9 logo on top of Barry's face in the video, so no one can rip off the feed without crediting the station. Unfortunately, the move renders Barry's wonderfully expressive face nearly impossible to read.)

Well, no one, least of all the proprietor of this blog, would wish Marion Barry anything but the best of health. It is difficult to imagine politics in Washington without him. But his kidney problems have zippo to do with his consistent failure to do what all citizens must do--report his income and pay the government what he owes. True to form, Barry blames the prosecutors who now want him to be jailed: "I should have known these prosecutors. They're vicious and they'll do anything to try to embarrass me and try to get at me."

Barry was quick to play the Daschle-Geithner card. Here, Binary Man agrees with the Mayor for Life wholeheartedly. Skip Barry's whining about how "the media was rather kind to" the Obama appointees when it turned out that they had been way less than honest in reporting their personal income.

Focus instead on the disparity between Daschle and Geithner on one hand and Barry on the other. Daschle--who in 1998 opined that "Make no mistake, tax cheaters cheat us all, and the IRS should enforce our laws to the letter"--had to cough up about $100,000 to cover taxes on the limo and driver he got from a friendly donor. That's about half of what Barry had to pay after his last bout of tax distraction.

Sure, Daschle lost his chance to be a member of the president's cabinet and suffered a round of public humiliation, but no prosecutor is asking for jail time for him.

Barry, however, is a repeat offender, someone who seems to believe, even after years of prosecutorial and media attention on this matter, that he does not have to play by the same rules as the rest of us.

Daschle lived like a king; Barry, like a modest civil servant. Daschle expressed regret for his actions; Barry seems reluctant to concede wrongdoing.

In all of these cases, Binary Man thinks it's in the government's interest to come down hard on the scofflaws. If you can't make a bright public example of high officials, then you don't have much hope of winning tax compliance from Joe Average. Even if a couple of months in the slammer wouldn't change Barry's ways, even if he is 72 and in shaky health, the feds and the judge ought to see the value in holding Barry not to some astronomically high standard of ethical purity, but just to some minimal, basic standard of acceptable behavior.

Embarrassment didn't work, probation didn't work, tough talk didn't work. It's time to send a message, both to Barry and to the broader public. And prosecutors should start a file on those other guys while they're at it. For too long, public corruption hasn't been a strong focus of D.C. prosecutors, so it's good to see them trying to get tough on Barry. Now they need to broaden their selection of targets.

Your view?

By Marc Fisher |  February 17, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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Your column seems to overlook a set of accomplices in this whole matter--the DC City Council. Has any member spoken out about to suggest that Barry be removed from the Council ? That may be the only punishment this arrogant old fool might comprehend. Are the Council members too terrified of Barry or his supporters, including those in the media (see "Reporters Notebook" on channel 4 last Sunday), to suggest that it is way past time for him to be removed for his repeated flaunting of the law and his unbelievable excuses? If he had enough time to be interviewed by Bruce Johnson, he would have had enough time to sit with his accountant and lawyer and file his tax forms.If he is undergoing dialysis three times per week as he says, there would be MORE than enough time to take care of his tax business. I guess that he was too distratced.
The failure of the Council to act to toss his sorry butt out is shameful. Maybe they are too concerned about "casting the first stone".

Posted by: jmsbh | February 17, 2009 9:16 AM

Obama could balance the budget if all the Democrats would pay their taxes. :)

Barry has never revealed the names of his drug dealers.

Posted by: win_harrington | February 17, 2009 9:36 AM

REalize, this only feeds the legend of Marion Barry. it has always been Barry against the world, and "They" are out to get me despite all of his misdeeds. Barry is an over the hill loser to many, but he represents the middle finger to what is normal to the rest of society. The people that support him have no clue, not that they all are ignorant. They just have no clue of what it takes and what the vast majority of us ALL go through to attain what we have. the shame is Barry has been pulling the same con of getting over on DC for over 30 years now.

Why doesn't he pay his taxes? At 73 years old and still doing drugs, Barry does not think he has much longer to live. I guarantee you of that. This is yet another attempt of his to defy the nation's norms. Yes, he thinks he is above the law, but he also thinks he will never face the law.

Posted by: oknow1 | February 17, 2009 10:01 AM

YES!!! You or I would have been in jail several times over if we had done the exact same things as Barry has done again and again.

So he is getting dialysis... He could have spent one of those sessions doing his taxes rather than reading a magazine or watching TV. Of course, he certainly has an accoutant... Where is this clown during all of this?

Posted by: wildfyre99 | February 17, 2009 10:15 AM

"should he get the Tom Daschle-Timothy Geithner special treatment?" Once again WP reporters are unable to distinguish between a crumpled up piece of tin foil shining in the sun and a real issue. Daschle and Geithner paid their taxes and since they had their problem no one has accused them of being recidivists. Barry should be in jail for refusing to learn. Every deserves a break, and no one goes to jail for not paying taxes they go to jail for getting caught for not paying and not then paying them.

Posted by: crete | February 17, 2009 10:37 AM

Perhaps I'm remembering incorrectly, but isn't failure to pay his taxes a violation of his probation? Violations of probation should absolutely lead to a revocation of his freedom. That's the only way probation has any teeth as a criminal justice measure.

Posted by: kajr | February 17, 2009 10:38 AM

He has an accountant. All he has to do is sign the darn things. How much time does it take to sign "Marion Barry." It's not that long of a name.

If it were a couple months late, it would be one thing. But, he failed to file his 2007 taxes throughout the entire year of 2008. It is now 2009 and he says he will do it soon.

Also, it would be on thing if this were the first year he forgot and were on probation for something else. But, when you are on probation for NOT filing taxes, you KNOW you need to file them.

Posted by: epjd | February 17, 2009 10:51 AM

hold on here, aren't citizens past a certain age and under a certain income level exempt from paying taxes?

Posted by: nall92 | February 17, 2009 10:55 AM

Unfortunately, the most useful punishment is not available: Banishment. Oh, for the good old days...

Posted by: WarshingtonDC | February 17, 2009 11:02 AM

Please. Marion Barry got busted with crack and THEN got elected to Ward 8. Yes, Marion Barry should be "punished" for failing to pay his taxes, but what's the point of jailing him to send a message? Who is the message being sent to: the Marion Barry supporters who are going to support him anyway? White people who are still angry that O.J. Simpson got off?
Sending Marion Barry to jail won't send a message, it'll just be...sad. Leave him alone. Chuckle, laugh, or sigh and move on with your lives!

Posted by: djwonder36 | February 17, 2009 11:08 AM

D.C. council members receive annual salaries of $92,520.

Posted by: buffysummers | February 17, 2009 11:14 AM

"Daschle...had to cough up about $100,000 to cover taxes on the limo and driver he got from a friendly donor. That's about half of what Barry had to pay after his last bout of tax distraction."

Barry owed $200,000? Doesn't sound like a modest civil servant lifestyle to me.

Posted by: dlk117561 | February 17, 2009 11:18 AM

He should be given a short deadline to file all tax returns that are in arrears before having to serve mandatory jail time. If the Feds and DC Gov't are not already doing so, they should start garnishing his wages for whatever is owed. Putting him in jail (unless absolutely necessary) is a waist of tax paper money. He can afford to pay and should.

Posted by: why6 | February 17, 2009 11:19 AM

Wait minute, Marc...

From one of your earlier postings, that you linked to here:

"To the glee of his entourage, Barry got off with probation after his conviction for having failed to file federal and D.C. income tax returns from 1999 to 2004.

"Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson ordered that Barry pay the $195,000, plus penalties and interest, that he owes to the feds..."

Doing some simple math, that means his tax obligation to the IRS for those years averaged $32,500 a year.

You don't owe $32,500 in federal taxes without having an income comfortably into six figures.

But here you say, "Fining Barry wouldn't make sense; he has little in the way of assets and he has proven throughout his career that he is not driven by any desire to get rich. Even as people all around him were ransacking the public treasury during his many years in power, Barry has always led a modest, even barebones, lifestyle."

His lifestyle isn't what's at issue. He had substantial income all those years and didn't pay taxes on it. He was given a second chance with probation, and gave everyone the finger. He belongs in jail with all those people who were involved in the DC Tax office scam. If he doesn't belong behind bars, why do they?

Posted by: gilbertbp | February 17, 2009 11:20 AM

Marc Fisher, race-baiting again. Disgusting.

Posted by: gbooksdc | February 17, 2009 11:25 AM

Disgusting corruption. Since the guy gets so many votes.. it is obvious he has friends in the police and judges. The guy can not do his tax returns because he is hiding his income... probably getting kickbacks from dealers.

Posted by: jercha | February 17, 2009 11:36 AM

You're overlooking the difference between civil tax law and criminal tax law.
Daschle and Geitner filed tax returns, but got the amounts they owed wrong. What happened to them is the equivalent of getting audited and having the IRS say you owe extra money. The "civil" remedy for that is to pay what you owe. There has been no allegation of criminal wrong-doing in their cases.
Barry did not file a return (again). This is itself a criminal violation.

Posted by: taxworep | February 17, 2009 11:47 AM

Marion Berry should already be in prison. God (or maybe the Devil)alone knows why he isn't.

Posted by: | February 17, 2009 11:48 AM

To bill honest tax-payers with the cost of jailing and feeding former Mayor Barry would add insult to injury. Folks that pay their taxes are tagged with making up the difference when others fail to pay their fair share. Now, you want to add to the burden?

Those wanting to store Barry in a cell have other agenda's and spites than tax justice. Let's use our brains instead of hatred: if Barry has income, dock it to get the back taxes. He will pay nothing back while imprisoned and will only cost us all more.

Posted by: free-donny | February 17, 2009 11:50 AM

I think that Barry should be given a permanent, "honorary" seat on the Council and treated as an Emperor-Norton-like figure (see

Posted by: meelar | February 17, 2009 11:51 AM

Great story keep up the good work, just please spell your name right next time MARK.

Posted by: jfudge1 | February 17, 2009 12:21 PM

I'm a Ward 8 resident and I believe that Barry should definitely go to jail over this...I think sixty days would do nicely.

If he doesn't file his tax returns, why should anyone else?

If he violates the terms of his probation, why shouldn't everyone else.

He proclaims himself to be "a leader for the people". Well, he should lead by example and take the punishment for his misdeeds.

Posted by: hoos3014 | February 17, 2009 12:27 PM

The comparison to what Daschle and Geithner did is simply not on point for lots of reasons. (1) Daschle and Geithner actually filed their tax returns; (2) There is no evidence either of them knowingly broke the law; (3) unlike Barry, they have no past record of tax dodging; and (4) also unlike Barry, Daschle and Geithner have repaid the government what they owed, *plus* all the interest and penalties (anyone who has run afoul of the IRS knows those are not insubstantial). Regardless of how stupid these guys may look, and putting aside whether they'd have come clean if they hadn't been caught, at least Daschle and Geithner fixed their mistakes and paid what they owed. Oh, and did I mention, at least they actually filed their tax returns!

Posted by: stodge | February 17, 2009 12:33 PM

Ah...the Crown Prince of DC politics! Who could ever forget when Hizzoner was doing time at the Petersburg Federal Correctional Center in Virginia, had a chartered busload of "constituents" make the 3 hour trip to visit him, and then proceed to be "serviced" by a constituent on a couch in the said day room in front of other inmates who were visiting with their families! You just can't make stuff like this up. Totally priceless!

Posted by: livinginoregon | February 17, 2009 12:37 PM

No the mayor for life should not have to pay...neither should anyone in his ward. Just get the President to waive all federal income tax to him and his constituents. Most in this ward do not pay already, so why make their fearless leader liable. Matter of fact, we should also have a Presidential order making any drug legal too since that is what THE MAYOR wants it as well; that way crime will fall precipitously in his ward. I say, take control away from THE MAN, rather the former MAN and all will become like utopia. Heck, forget giving DC a seat in congress...give three seats to Marion!

Did I mention that we will have to suspend building the fence down on the Mexican border and begin surrounding his ward with it instead.

Posted by: civilrightist | February 17, 2009 12:48 PM

You people are insane. 81 percent want to make arrogance a federal offense? Yes, Barry is arrogant. And yes, pride is a deadly sin--the father of all sins to be more accurate. Fine the old man and leave him alone. Fine him every year until it hurts more to pay the fine and that it does to hire someone to do his taxes. Imprisoning someone for arrogance...Sheesh, everyone wants to be God nowadays.

Posted by: forgetthis | February 17, 2009 1:19 PM

Forgetthis -- Arrogance is not a criminal offense, but failing to file tax returns is. The purpose of jailing Barry for a short time would not be punishment, but deterrence. Allowing a highly visible public figure to thumb his nose at the tax laws in this way ensures that many less-known individuals will do the same, and we all suffer for that.

Posted by: lydgate | February 17, 2009 1:31 PM

Only 2 options (and you are a journalist!) Besides what evidence 'Judge Fisher' do you present that Mr. Barry is thumbing his nose? Maybe he doesn’t have the funds; do we know that yet? Also to the so called law enforcers; your job isn’t to be frustrated- if something is alleged, make your report _ prosecute if needed and move on; your frustrations are not a part of the equation. There are many dangerous and corrupting forces out there in high and low places, please stop the pain they are causing _ long after your lock up M. Marry, they’ll be standing in the shadows grinning at you.

Posted by: aypub | February 17, 2009 1:33 PM

Its really simple. Apply the law the same way to everyone. If the common citizen, in the same situation, would have to go to jail, than Barry should go to jail.

If the thought of Barry going to jail sounds cruel, then perhaps the law should be amended so that everybody in this same situation doesn't have to go to jail. Why should a politician get off easier than the average citizen? If anything, the politician should be held to a higher standard.

Posted by: niceshoes1 | February 17, 2009 1:35 PM

He's not going to jail, leave the man alone. Your hate for our Mayor still shows after all these years and for what? Let it go, leave him alone. All the mess that politicians are doing and ya'll can't find nothing better then to keep beating this dead horse.

Bush and co. broke law after law and you did nothing but for some reason Marion Barry is the politician that has to go down. GIVE IT A FREAKING REST. HE WILL GO TO JAIL, WHEN THE REST OF THE GOP ET AL get in their orange jump suites first.



Posted by: love2much SE | February 17, 2009 1:43 PM

Good heavens, you know, even astronauts have to file their taxes by April 15 or face the wrath of the IRS; why in the world does Marion Barry, or anyone else for that matter, get a free pass?

If you can't get them done in time, file the form for an extension and be prepared to pay a penalty. It's not THAT difficult. Particularly if you can afford an accountant who is more than happy to nag/remind you about this stuff!

This isn't the same thing, but this does remind me of when G. Bush wasn't exactly able to prove that he'd shown up for his reserve duty. Hell, I've held onto every year-end pay stub I've ever earned, from every job I've ever held. I still find it hard to believe that he didn't... It's not THAT much paper to show how much you earned base, overtime, gross, net, taxable, etc.

Posted by: Skowronek | February 17, 2009 1:45 PM

Win/win scenario for when the Mayor for Life needs to be taken care of for the rest of his life:
No jail.
Hizzonor is found not competent to handle his personal affairs.
The city gets Power of Attorney.
Expenses and taxes are paid and caretakers keep the old fella from harming himself and others.
All funds come from his income & estate.

Posted by: nonsensical2001 | February 17, 2009 2:00 PM

You write, "It is difficult to imagine politics in Washington without him." Actually, it is long past time to start doing so.

Posted by: dmsblogmail | February 17, 2009 2:14 PM

Should Marion Barry Go to Jail?

As long as I can refuse to pay my taxes and suffer no consequences, then No, Barry should remain scot-free.

Posted by: swatkins1 | February 17, 2009 2:52 PM

gbooksdc - I agree. Taxes are simply a conspiracy to keep the black man down. How dare Marc (Whitey) Fisher call Marian (The Pure) Barry to account?


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | February 17, 2009 8:20 PM

Marc,it's time for Mr. Barry to go to jail.
He needs to realize that the laws are for everyone,even him! He is not above the law. The DC citizens are so tired of him and his excuses. When he goes to jail, I hope they forget where the key is located, perhaps the guard will be distracted because he is undergoing dialysis!

Posted by: DCWatcher3 | February 17, 2009 10:33 PM

If this is a matter of filing, then let him be fined. If he has been determined to owe taxes and refuses to pay, then garnish his wages. Jail time is in appropriate for this offense. Better to spend our government dollars on doing some real good, like putting Bush and Cheney in jail.
Come on people, have some guts and focus on the bigger picture. Who has caused YOU harm -- Barry or Bush/Cheney?

Posted by: sarjo220 | February 18, 2009 12:04 AM

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