MADISON, Wis. - A federal judge on Thursday sentenced former major league pitcher Jerry Koosman to six months in prison for not paying his taxes.
Prosecutors say Koosman, a former All-Star who helped the New York Mets win the 1969 World Series, didn’t pay federal income taxes for 2002, 2003 and 2004. He pleaded guilty in May to willfully failing to file taxes for 2002, a misdemeanor, in a deal with prosecutors.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb found that Koosman cost the government as much as $80,000. She could have sentenced him to a full year in prison but chose to cut that in half and add a year of supervised release, during which probation agents will closely monitor his finances.
Prosecutors said in May that Koosman had paid back the delinquent taxes.
The judge scolded Koosman for taking advantage of all the opportunities the United States offered him, including the chance to play major league baseball and win a World Series, then walking away without paying.
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“It is a serious blemish on an otherwise outstanding life,” Crabb told Koosman.
Koosman, 66, of Osceola, told IRS agents in 2006 that he had researched federal tax laws and concluded they applied only to federal employees, corporate workers and District of Columbia residents. During a May hearing, he told Crabb he was naive and fell in with the anti-tax movement.
His attorney, Robert Bernhoft, argued that Koosman deserved probation, pointing to letters to the judge that described him as an honest, reliable, naive farm boy. Koosman put his professional baseball career on hold to serve in the military, has performed too many charitable acts to list and never looked down on people of “lower station” even though professional athletes often act aloof and arrogant, Bernhoft added.
“He has a reputation for being too trusting and naive,” the attorney said.
Koosman, now silver-haired but still tall with an athlete’s build, read a statement apologizing for his actions.
“I tend to trust people more than I should,” he said. “I shouldn’t have listened to those people about tax returns.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Vaudreuil (pronounced VOH’-drey) countered that the case wasn’t about Koosman being a bad person but about sending a message to the anti-tax community.
“If you flub the tax laws and if you willfully fail to file taxes, it comes with a price,” he said.
Crabb told Koosman she couldn’t believe that even a naive person would think he didn’t have to pay taxes.
Koosman played 19 seasons in the majors, including his first 12 with the Mets. He had a career record of 222-209 with a 3.36 ERA.
He and Tom Seaver were the backbone of the 1969 Mets’ starting rotation. That team, nicknamed the “Amazin’ Mets,” overtook the division-leading Chicago Cubs in the final month of the regular season to win the National League title and went on to win the World Series.
Koosman won two Series games that year. He gave up a run and two hits in 8 2-3 innings in Game 2 and three runs in a complete-game performance in Game 5 to clinch the series victory over the Baltimore Orioles.
He also won a game in the 1973 World Series, but the Mets lost the title to Oakland.
The Mets traded Koosman to the Minnesota Twins after the 1978 season, and he played the final seven seasons of his career with the Twins, Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia Phillies. He gave up Pete Rose’s landmark 4,000th career hit in 1984 and retired after the 1985 season.
Crabb told Koosman to report to prison on Nov. 3. Koosman told reporters after the proceeding that he was sorry and had learned a lesson.
“Pay your taxes,” he said. “I’m looking forward to doing that and getting on with the rest of my life.”