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Appeals court upholds former pol's conviction for evading more than $1M in federal taxes

A three-judge panel rejected Gerard Terry's claim that he did not understand the nature of the crime when he pleaded guilty in 2018 and was sentenced to 3 years in prison.

Gerard Terry, former North Hempstead Democratic Party chairman,

Gerard Terry, former North Hempstead Democratic Party chairman, is serving a 3-year prison term for failing to pay more than $1 million in federal income taxes. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

A U.S. Circuit Court panel has rejected an appeal from former North Hempstead Town Democratic chairman Gerard Terry, upholding a 2018 sentence that ordered him to prison for 3 years. 

Terry, of Roslyn Heights, pleaded guilty in October 2017 to one count of tax evasion for failing since 2010 to pay federal taxes totaling about $1.4 million. Terry had more than $250,000 in annual income since 2010, court documents show. 

Terry was sentenced to three years in prison in May 2018, and appealed the decision the following month. He and his lawyer, Daniel Perez, argued in the appeal that the district court did not inform Terry of the nature of the crime when he pleaded guilty. 

Federal law requires that before a court accepts a guilty plea, a court official must inform the defendant and make sure the person understands the nature of each charge. The law does not specify how a court must inform a defendant.

Judges Richard Wesley, Denny Chin and Richard Sullivan denied Terry's appeal on Tuesday, in part because they said prosecutors spoke to Terry and his trial lawyer, Garden City-based attorney Stephen Scaring, at length about how Terry attempted to avoid paying the Internal Revenue Service. The judges also said in court documents that "Terry — a lawyer [himself] — was perfectly capable of entering a plea and he understood the rights he was waiving by pleading guilty."

"Furthermore, Terry fails to articulate how his purported failure to understand the nature of tax evasion contributed to his decision to plead guilty," the judges wrote in their decision. "He thus fails to show a reasonable probability that, but for the error [of purportedly failing to understand], he would not have entered the [guilty] plea." 

Perez said Friday that he had no comment. Scaring referred all questions to Perez.

Federal prosecutors said Terry, while avoiding taxes, used his income to buy luxury clothes, high-end electronics and take overseas trips. 

The judges noted that the prosecutors' conversation with Terry and his lawyer "was not a model of clarity," but still determined there was no wrongdoing.

"While the district court did not explicitly explain the elements of tax evasion, all three elements were discussed in detail, and the record certainly does not indicate that a miscarriage of justice has occurred," the judges concluded.

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