MIAMI— Former Tribal Councilman David Cypress was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Aug. 9 for filing a false income tax return for 2007.
Cypress, 61, pled guilty to the charges in April.
“I apologized to everybody,” Cypress said during his sentencing hearing held at the Miami Federal Courthouse. “I fully accepted the responsibility.”
Cypress’ attorney, Joel Hirschhorn, argued that the Big Cypress resident was confused about taxable income laws, citing his simple background and lack of education as the reasons. Cypress, he said, grew up in a chickee with no running water, hunting and fishing for food.
U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams, however, viewed the tax charge as “uniquely American” and sentenced Cypress to serve prison time. The prosecution, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolyn Bell, had asked for a two-year sentence and portrayed Cypress as a “sophisticated” leader of the Seminole Tribe capable of making important decisions on his people’s behalf during his time on the Tribal Council.
During the hearing, Cypress’ son Charlie testified on his father’s behalf and told the courtroom his father was a good man who helped him through some difficult times in his life.
The prosecution called Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr. to the stand, as well as Seminole Tribe of Florida Chief Financial Officer Jim Raker. Upon questioning, Raker spoke on Cypress’ misallocations of Council money during the time he spent serving. The prosecution also told of Cypress’ lavish spending during his years in office, from 1999-2010.
When cross-examined, Raker mentioned that the Tribe now does more to educate Tribal members about tax forms and tax laws.
Hirschhorn said he hopes Cypress’ case will cause procedures to be put in place to prevent this from happening to other Tribal members across Indian Country.