Chuck Berry’s Tax Evasion Story

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Chuck Berry had an impressive career that lasted decades and established him as the “Father of Rock and Roll.” With hits like Johnny B. Goode and Roll Over Beethoven, Berry’s music has made him an iconic figure in music history. However, his 90-year life was not without incident, with trouble with the law that ranged from physical and sexual abuse allegations and tax evasion charges. 

Berry worked well into his 80s, amassing a large estate by the time he passed away in 2017. At the time of his death, Berry had a net worth of $10 million. And his estate was estimated to be worth $50 million, which includes $17 million in music rights. 

In 1979, The New York Times reported that Chuck Berry pleaded guilty to tax evasion charges. And on July 10th, 1979, Berry was sentenced to four months in prison. There are conflicting reports on the worth of the unpaid taxes, with some sources saying he evaded $110,000 in federal income taxes for the 1973 tax year and other sources claiming it was $200,000. Based on an inflation calculator, $200,000 would be over $761,000 today. Whatever the actual amount was, Berry ultimately pleaded guilty. 

Berry served his prison sentence in Southern California at the Lompoc Prison Camp. It is said that apart from his guitar, Berry brought writing materials and dictionaries into his cell to write his autobiography. Berry was in his 50s at the time. Apart from the prison sentence, Berry was also required to complete 1,000 hours of community service, which he could fulfill by performing concerts for charity.   

The Internal Revenue Services turned their attention to Berry, knowing that the musician’s touring style meant traveling the local music scene. And local promoters were notorious for paying their performers in cash. Not reporting income from an all-cash business transaction is one of the most common tax evasion tactics. When done intentionally, an all-cash transaction would leave no paper trail of the cash that was given and received. The IRS would have had to conduct a thorough investigation on all of Berry’s performances and how the promoters paid the musician. 

Upon serving his prison sentence, Berry continued his music journey and even bought a restaurant in Missouri. However, he would be later sued by 59 women who claimed that he’d installed a video camera to capture women in the bathroom of his restaurant. He would also plead guilty for possession of marijuana, for which he received a 6-month suspended jail sentence. But while he faced other legal troubles, including the discovery of videos of him with a minor, Berry was never in trouble with the IRS again. 

Chuck Berry’s tax evasion story is a strong reminder of what can go wrong when wealth is accumulated rapidly. People can easily lose track of their finances and tax liabilities when there is a surge in income, particularly from multiple sources. And when the person lacks knowledge in tax planning, it can also increase the risk of losing valuable tax savings.  

At Golden Tax Relief, we know the workings of the tax system and can help you resolve the tax problems you may be facing. If you are worried that your tax liabilities will catch up to you, click here to request a consultation or call 844 229 8936.  

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