Darryl Genis, perhaps Santa Barbara’s best known criminal defense attorney, was sentenced Monday to serve 24 months behind bars by a federal judge in Los Angeles for willfully failing to pay $679,958 in taxes on $3.5 million of unreported earnings over an eight-year span.
Outspokenly brash both inside and outside of the courtroom, Genis will surrender to authorities for incarceration May 15. Where he will serve his time remains to be determined, but under federal rules, the most Genis can get off for good behavior is 3.6 months.
Genis pled guilty to three counts of willful failure to pay taxes — criminal misdemeanors — last year. “I did what I did and there’s no excuse,” he said, adding that a 20-year addiction to gambling “helped explain the extremely poor judgement which lead me to where I am today.”
Genis said as a gambler he won big and lost bigger. On one weekend, Genis said he lost $166,000 in Las Vegas. He underwrote his addiction, he stated in court papers, by taking out a loan on property he owned at Hollister Ranch. Genis said he had to hit bottom before realizing how bad his addiction problems were. He has since enrolled in a 12-step program.
In legal papers, Genis’s attorney Martin Schainbaum — a legal crusader who goes by the handle “Tax Warrior” — argued Genis should be sentenced to house arrest so that he could make restitution on what he owes the IRS, which Genis estimates will total $1.5 million when fines and interests are included, and care for his two minor children. “Restitution thereby effectively places the defendant in economic servitude, an incarceration without bars, until the restitution is paid in full,” Schainbaum pleaded. That, he added, would make an example of Genis and function as an effective deterrent against others disinclined to pay taxes.
Schainbaum also argued that Genis’s accountant — now deceased — was a high-functioning alcoholic who dispensed seriously bad advice. When Genis reportedly asked about the IRS notices he was receiving, Schainbaum claimed Genis’s accountant’s wife, reportedly a former IRS agent, “placated him…assuring him that everything was in order.” (In court, Genis disavowed these claims.) Federal Judge Dale Fischer rejected such arguments and dismissed Genis’s plea that his gambling addiction constituted a “mitigating circumstance” for purposes of calculating his sentence. According to one source, Fischer reportedly opined that she regretted not imposing a stiffer sentence. “I didn’t hear it that way,” said Genis, “but she could have.”
Twenty-five letters were submitted on Genis’s behalf, many by attorneys who praised Genis for his legal skills, determination on behalf of clients, and devotion as a father. Others were submitted by relatives and former clients, like freelance investigative reporter Peter Lance, who described Genis as “one of the finest attorneys in the nation and a dedicated father.” Lance, who had been charged with driving under the influence, insisted on his innocence and penned many lengthy articles for the Santa Barbara News-Press attacking the Santa Barbara Police Department in general and officer Kasi Beutel in particular. Genis handled the defense and ultimately got the charges against Lance dropped.
Genis has claimed he’s been targeted for retaliation by the District Attorney’s Office for standing up for the accused. But even admirers concede Genis can often be his own worst enemy, gratuitously antagonizing judges and prosecutors with personally belittling comments. His conflicts with both — as well as the California State Bar — have provided ample headline fodder over the past five years.
Genis vowed that his practice will continue even during his incarceration by attorneys that he’s hired and trained. “My practice will still be the pre-eminent DUI practice in Santa Barbara,” he stated. “If you call our phones, they’ll still be on.”