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Former chief public defender receives probation for tax evasion

By: Laura Brown//May 30, 2024//

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Former chief public defender receives probation for tax evasion

By: Laura Brown//May 30, 2024//

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A former chief public defender for Hennepin County has been sentenced to probation for tax evasion. Kassius Benson, who has practiced law for nearly three decades, was sentenced to three years of probation and restitution of nearly $214,000 on May 8.

Benson was admitted to the practice of law in 1996 in Minnesota. He worked as a public defender in Washington, D.C., eventually returning to Minnesota. Benson states on his firm’s website that he has helped train lawyers in Alabama, Georgia and Minnesota, including being a founding faculty member at the Minnesota Public Defender Trial School.

Before becoming the chief public defender for the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office, Benson was in private practice. Benson owned the law practice Kassius Benson Law P.A.

Benson was chosen to lead the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office in December 2020. He served as Hennepin County’s chief public defender from January 2021 to November 2022. In that role, he oversaw more than 100 attorneys. Benson gave a letter of resignation in October 2022, citing “personal issues.” During the weekend of the resignation, Benson was pulled over in Wayzata. He had a blood-alcohol content of 0.13.

A warrant filed in federal court showed that the IRS was investigating Benson’s law firm for suspected tax fraud. A revenue agent initiated an audit regarding forms Benson was supposed to file in 2017. Upon discovering that Benson had neglected to pay employment and unemployment taxes and had failed to file the required forms, the agent extended the investigation to include the years 2013 and 2015-2019. According to the warrant, Benson “failed to report the quarterly wages and employment taxes to the IRS for all quarters for tax years 2013 and 2015-2019.”

In February 2023, Benson was indicted on 17 counts of tax evasion. The indictment alleged that Benson failed to file the necessary Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Returns (Forms 941) for his law practice and did not remit the employment taxes withheld from his employees’ wages to the IRS. It also alleged that, from 2017 to 2019, Benson knowingly assisted in preparing his own false individual income tax returns (Forms 1040). He did this by falsely claiming that his law practice had withheld federal income taxes from his wages and had paid those withholdings to the IRS.

Benson was charged with three counts of aiding the preparation of a false tax return and 14 counts of failing to account for and pay employment taxes. He faced a maximum penalty of five years in prison for each employment tax offense and three years in prison for each false tax return offense.

In December 2023, Benson pleaded guilty to one count of willfully failing to pay employment taxes. The remaining charges were dropped. Benson was ordered to pay just under $214,000 to the Internal Revenue Service.

Sentencing took place on May 8. The government stated in a sentencing recommendation in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota that Benson deserved eight months in prison. However, Benson received a three-year probation sentence. Benson must also perform 100 hours of community service, as approved by the probation officer.

As of publication, Benson was authorized to practice law and had not been subject to discipline.

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