NORTH JERSEY -- Singer Lauryn Hill was sentenced to three months in prison Monday for not paying taxes on more than $2.3 million in earnings over a five year period.
The eight-time Grammy winner faced up to three years in federal prison after after pleaded guilty in federal court in June 2012 to failing to file tax returns. The South Orange resident must also serve three months of home confinement.
During a three hour proceeding before Federal Magistrate Madeline Cox Arleo, Hill’s attorney Nathan Hochman argued that the former Fugee should receive probation with no period of incarceration or, at worst, home confinement.
Hill told the court that the burdens of fame complicated her efforts to earn money and that she had been thrust into a industry at a young age not fully understanding the consequences. Describing herself as “the child of former slaves,” Hill said she was forced to choose between her artistic integrity and the commercial demand to put out more hit music.
“I was ushered into a system I didn’t really understand the nature of, its violence, its need to squeeze every dime from a talent such as myself,” Hill said. “This industry creates an illusion of wealth and success that takes a toll on an individual.”
Hochman, in arguing for a “downward departure” from the sentencing guidelines, said Hill merely failed to pay taxes and did not submit a fraudulent return or attempt to conceal assets.
Hochman cited other high-profile defendants, such as singer Willie Nelson and actor Nicholas Cage, who did not serve jail time in tax cases. Hill has repaid all $900,000 in taxes she owed, Hochman said.
Hochman also cited Hill’s charitable work and her family obligations as a single mother of six in arguing for a reduced sentence.
“As the court is aware Ms. Hill is the primary caregiver of six children between the ages of 15 years and 21 months,” Hochman said.
Hill told the court that the period when she failed to file tax returns was a time when she was intentionally pulling back from the limelight for the sake of her family in order to live “underground.”
The government, represented by Assistant US Attorney Sandra Moser, countered that Hill always had ample funds to pay the taxes that she owed and that she had done almost no charitable work for years until her recent troubles with the IRS.
Moser also said that Hill had the resources to care for her large family if she were imprisoned, including support payments of $15,000 a month provided by Rohan Marley, the father of several of the of the children. Marley is the son of reggae legend Bob Marley.
“The defendant does not deserve a get-out-of-jail card for deigning to pay what she owes,” Moser said.
Arleo rejected Hill’s request for no jail time, citing precedent and also expressing skepticism regarding Hill’s claim that her failure to file tax returns somehow stemmed from her self-imposed isolation from public life.
“[Paying taxes] can be done quietly and underground,” Arleo said.
But Arleo also noted that Hill had made restitution, had no prior criminal history and that her family obligations were still significant enough to warrant a much lighter sentence than the maximum allowed under guidelines.
Hill’s sentence is to begin by July 8. Arleo agreed to pass on a request from Hochman that Hill serve her time in a facility near her family.
Hill released a new song, "Neurotic Society (Compulsory Mix)" on Friday.