Charity founder Albert Salmon Jr. was sentenced Thursday to a year in prison in his state tax fraud case, ending years of investigation into his defunct shelter for the homeless.
Prosecutors hope the jail time — and an order to pay back some of the cost it took to prosecute him — sends a message to tax cheats that fraud can lead to time behind bars.
Salmon, 61, continued to maintain the hundreds of thousands of dollars in income he failed to declare from 1999-2002 was more of an oversight than intentional wrongdoing. In court, he also made comments critical of the local jail system, saying the week he'd spent in custody featured inadequate clothing, cold conditions and substandard bedding.
"I took care of people 10 times better than the state is taking care of us," he told Circuit Judge Kristi Harrington inside the Berkeley County Courthouse.
Harrington acknowledged Salmon had changed lives for the better by assisting the homeless through his Good Samaritan Mission in North Charleston. But she said his choice to provide inaccurate records made him guilty of not being "true and wise."
"You failed," she said.
Salmon was convicted after a five-day trial last week on four tax evasion charges for not reporting more than $465,000 in income during tax years 1999-2002. Prosecutors contend while he was running the charity he also was a slumlord with extensive properties rented to the poor. One inspector found men living in partitioned trailers, a garage and a storage shed.
Salmon on Thursday also pleaded to other charges outstanding in the case, including under-reporting his compensation as head of the mission. Secretary of State Mark Hammond was in the courtroom and said the integrity of those records was vital for anyone inspecting the behavior of local charities.
Salmon's total sentence for all the charges included: a year in prison, four years of probation and 500 hours of community service. He also will have to pay back about $27,000 of the $93,000 prosecutors said it cost to pursue the case. State and federal investigators also can pursue civilly the tax debt Salmon failed to pay. About $36,000 is owed to the state and $157,000 to the federal government in tax debts, according to preliminary estimates.
Since his indictment in 2006, Salmon had been living in Florida, dabbling in real estate. The mission no longer functions, but Salmon's defenders said he contribution to the homeless was significant.
"He gave his life to his ministry and those people," said Burton Harris, who spoke on Salmon's behalf in his request for leniency.
Assistant Attorney General Tom McDermott said the state's request for prison time meant the Department of Revenue is serious about making everyone to pay their taxes. It sends a message to those who say " 'maybe I'll try to get away with it,' " McDermott said.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551 or email@example.com.