Sunny Garcia Goes to JailOct 19 2006 / Los Angeles, CA
Uncle Sam Punishes Uncle Sunny: Sunny Garcia Sentenced to Three Months for Tax Evasion.
Former surfing World Champion Sunny Garcia is going to Federal Prison for not paying his taxes, and if he is going to Lompoc as U.S. District Judge Thomas J Whelan recommended, he is following in the footsteps of another famous surfer who did Federal time.
Sunny was one of the top pro surfers in the world from when he dropped out of high school at 1986 to compete on the pro tour, to his retirement after the 2005 season. He was the World Champion in 2000 and the second pro surfer to win over $1 million in prize money. The trouble he got into had to do with income taxes on $161,450 in cash and traveler's checks earned in surf contests in Fiji, Australia, South Africa, France, Spain, Portugal and Brazil. He also admitted that from 1996 to 1999 and in 2001, he did not report another $255,635 in prizes.
Garcia was convicted of tax evasion on October 18, for failing to pay taxes on $471,000 on unreported overseas winnings from 1996 to 2001. At the sentencing, Garcia apologized for his misdeed, admitting: "I didn't surf because I thought I was going to make money at it,” Garcia said. "But coming from a poor family, you want to buy everything you never had. I spent my money foolishly.”
Judge Thomas Whelan was lenient with Garcia during a time when Uncle Sam is making examples of public figures who cheat on their taxes. In January of 2005, Richard Hatch of Survivor fame plead guilty to two counts of federal income tax evasion for failing to report his million-dollar prize from his victory in Survivor: Pulau Tiga along with $10,000 he was paid to appear on the reunion show and another $321,139 for a radio talk show gig that failed. Hatch could have been sentenced to five years and $250,000 for each count, but in May of 2006 the judge gave him 51 months for making the plea bargain, penalizing him a little for perjuring himself – and perhaps for being so stupid as to not report an income that the entire country saw him earn on TV.
More recently, actor Wesley Snipes was the subject of a Federal arrest warrant for attempting to defraud the government of $12 million dollars and was facing 16 years in prison on tax evasion and fraud charges.
Garcia's problems are not as severe as Hatch or Snipes, but he dodged a longer prison term by a judge who seemed to be sympathetic. Judge Whelan set January 12 as the date by which Garcia needs to report to the Bureau of Prisons, allowing Garcia to compete in the Hawaiian Triple Crown this winter, and possibly win some of the money he is going to need to pay back taxes and fines on $417,000 in prize money he failed to report. According to Allison Hoffman of the Associated Press: "Garcia, whose given name is Vincent Sennen Garcia, looked gloomy as the sentence was handed down, but outside the courtroom he quickly regained the cheerful demeanor that earned him his nickname. "I feel good, considering,” he said. "It's a weight off my shoulders.”
Judge Whelan also ordered Garcia to spend seven months in home confinement after he gets out of prison and to perform 80 hours of community service, preferably with troubled youths. "Some of those kids might not listen to their parents, but might listen to Mr. Garcia,” Judge Whelan was quoted by Allison Hoffman.
Sunny got off light, considering, but you have to wonder if the judge was being cruel or kind sentencing a surfer to a Federal Prison that is just over the hills from the Hollister Ranch. Sunny will probably be able to smell the ocean during northwest storms. If Sunny goes to Lompoc he will be following in the footsteps of another great surfer who also did three months at the Federal Pen more than 20 years ago. David Rensin is a Los Angeles writer who just finished All For a Few Perfect Waves, a biography of Miki Dora: "Miki was convicted of a misdemeanor for interfering with the return of his mail. That's why he went to Lompoc. In other words, he or someone tossed the credit card bills, preventing them from being returned to Diners Club. He was also booked on suspicion of passport fraud but they couldn't prove it and the charge was dropped. He spent time in the California state prison system for jumping probation in 1974. This was from Jan 1982 to Oct 1982, and Lompoc from Oct 1982 to Dec 1982. There was some time spent in various jails during transportation from LA to Denver, etc. And three months in a medical/prison facility. But no felony convictions.”
Those who know Sunny aren't too worried about him. Brock Little has known Sunny since their menehune days in Hawaii: " From what I understand… I have a couple of friends who have been to Lompoc and they say Federal Penitentiaries are not as bad as State Prisons," Brock said. "I think Sunny is going to be a model prisoner. No fights. He will behave himself and he will come out big and strong and fat. That is exactly what I think. I think three months will let him see the light at the end of the tunnel. He will watch a lot of videos and lift weights and get fat. This is how I see him spending his three months.”