Lewes photographer Kevin Fleming was sentenced to one year in prison Oct. 26 for tax evasion.
U.S. District Judge Richard Andrews sentenced Fleming, 67, for the one count of tax evasion he pleaded guilty to in 2020. Fleming’s sentence includes $192,529 restitution to the IRS for income taxes due and owed from 2002 through 2016. Fleming was also ordered to make restitution to the IRS for $22,584 in payroll taxes that he withheld from his employees’ wages in 2016 and 2017 but never turned over to the IRS.
Fleming is scheduled to surrender on Nov. 29, said Kimberlynn Reeves of the U.S. Attorney’s General Office for Delaware.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Edmond Falgowski said that Fleming had the money to pay his income taxes for those years, as his total net income was $393,000; however, Fleming lived beyond his means, spending a total of $75,000 in restaurants/bars and $2,350 monthly to rent an $800,000 house in Lewes, one block from the beach. He had asked the court to give Fleming prison time after a motion made by Fleming’s public defender, Eleni Kousoulis, for a year of home confinement and two years of probation.
Kousoulis said Fleming is a flawed man whose reputation and business have been destroyed.
“Kevin was once a man who was regularly invited to speak at local gallery openings, conducted workshops for aspiring photographers, had large prints commissioned for impressive homes, and even appeared on the CBS Evening News,” the motion reads. “He now lives a meager life, leaving the house only for medical reasons, a shadow of who he was just two years ago.”
Fleming began his photography career in the early 1970s at the Delaware State News. By 1981, he earned international recognition by landing the cover of National Geographic magazine, closely followed by a Newsweek cover of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat taken one hour before his assassination in Egypt. While at the scene of Sadat’s assassination, Fleming took pictures of the bloody aftermath.
“Once a man who was recognized and admired, he now lives life in a two-bedroom apartment, an outcast with only his girlfriend and his doctors for company,” the motion reads. “Just two years ago he was selling six figures worth of photography every year. In the past 12 months, he has made less than $3,000 worth of sales. He lives on meager assistance and will undoubtedly die both sick and destitute.”
Kousoulis asked that Fleming remain out of prison because of potential risk to his health. “With the novel coronavirus still ever present in the federal prison system, a period of incarceration would subject Kevin to a potential death sentence,” the motion reads.
Falgowski had rejected the possibility of a prison death sentence because Fleming has received the Moderna vaccine which is 95 percent effective in preventing COVID-19. The Bureau of Prisons have also mitigated the disease throughout its facilities. “The defendant is not more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 in BOP custody than in Sussex County where he resides,” the motion reads.
Under the plea agreement for one count of tax evasion, Fleming had faced five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.
Before his 2020 plea agreement, Fleming faced four counts of failure to file a federal tax return, seven counts of failure to pay federal employee taxes, and five counts of tax evasion, totaling at least 80 years in prison and at least $4 million in fines.
The plea agreement required Fleming to file proper tax returns for 2012 to 2016, cooperate with any civil tax audit, and pay back taxes with any interest and penalties.
Fleming was indicted in November 2019 on 16 counts of felony tax charges. The indictment filed in U.S. District Court states Fleming willfully attempted to evade and defeat federal income tax by diverting funds from his corporate Portfolio Books Inc. account to pay for personal expenses from 2012 to 2016. During an interview with a special agent of the Internal Revenue Service, the indictment states, Fleming told the agent he set up the corporation, but falsely told the agent that the corporation was not a real entity because it had no employees, assets or bank accounts. Fleming faces five counts of tax evasion in connection with diverting funds from his corporations to pay for personal expenses.
According to court records, Fleming did not file federal tax returns for his gross income from 2013 to 2016. He also deducted federal income tax and Federal Insurance Contributions Act taxes – known as FICA taxes – from his employees' paychecks, but he kept the money instead of sending it to the IRS. In 2016 and 2017, he failed to pay quarterly taxes totaling $22,584.