Former Houston lawmaker Ron Wilson pleads guilty to federal tax evasion

A portrait of former state Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Houston, during the 78th Texas Legislature. Wilson pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion on Thursday. (Legislative Reference Library Of Texas, Legislative Reference Library Of Texas)

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Ron Wilson, a former Democratic lawmaker who served as a Houston state representative between 1977 and 2004, pleaded guilty on Thursday for trying to dodge federal income tax payments spanning over two decades.

Wilson pleaded guilty to one count of federal tax evasion. The charge could result in up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines, based on his plea bargain agreement filed in the Texas Western District Court. He has also agreed to pay close to $800,000 plus interest, which will be determined at his sentencing, to the Internal Revenue Service as restitution.

According to court filings, Wilson did not pay federal income tax in 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006, which amounted to almost $500,000 in owed taxes and penalties. He also concealed and misled the IRS about his income between 2011 and 2019, the documents say.

One of the main ways in which he hid his income was by depositing funds into an account set up by his law firm, Ron Wilson & Associates, that was intended to hold his clients’ assets for a short period of time. According to his plea bargaining agreement, Wilson told a bank teller in 2011 that he was using the account to avoid taxes.

The agreement mentions examples of how Wilson used the account. After a Houston Rockets settlement agreement in 2003 gave him regular payments until 2018, he funneled about $100,000 of those funds into the law firm’s account during a seven-year period. And when he worked as the director of the Texas Department of Transportation’s civil rights office between 2012 and 2015, he also deposited over $154,000 of his salary into the account during the first two years on the job.

Court filings show that Wilson also used his mother-in-law’s trust to hide income by “depositing checks into the trust’s accounts and then converting the funds into a cashier’s check” to pay for his personal expenses.

In March 2014, Wilson made a $182,500 deposit that resulted from the sale of a Lamborghini into one of the trust’s bank accounts. The same year, he bought an antique gate and side fence panels for $17,000 via a cashier’s check.

When he was interviewed by an IRS officer in 2015, Wilson listed his government pension as his only source of income without disclosing the funds from the Houston Rockets settlement or the antique gate as part of his assets.

Wilson’s sentencing hearing has yet to be set. As part of the plea bargain agreement, the government has recommended giving him a lower sentence.

During his long tenure as a lawmaker, Wilson was a high-profile figure whom the Houston Chronicle once described as being “full of contradictions [and] controversy.” He helped pass a Republican redistricting bill in 2004, after previously spearheading the successful effort to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a state holiday.