Singer Convicted of Evading Income Tax Payments

Times Staff Writer

R&B; singer Ronald Isley was convicted by a federal jury Monday of evading payment of more than $3 million in income taxes between 1997 and 2002.

The Isley Brothers’ frontman, who has a history of run-ins with the Internal Revenue Service, was accused of concealing income by demanding cash when his group performed on tour. Isley would then pay his musicians with currency, making it difficult to determine how much he had retained for himself, prosecutors said.

He faces a maximum term of 26 years in prison when he is sentenced Jan. 9 by U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson. Under federal sentencing guidelines, however, he probably will receive a much shorter term.

Tax problems are nothing new in the celebrity world. Actor W.C. Fields, baseball great Willie McCovey and country singer Willie Nelson had similar difficulties.


Still, lengthy prison sentences remain rare. Disgraced baseball great Pete Rose spent a year in prison for felony tax evasion, comedian Richard Pryor spent 10 days in Los Angeles County Jail and rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Chuck Berry was sentenced to four months in the minimum-security federal prison at Lompoc, Calif.

In addition to the tax charges, Isley, 64, was accused of cashing royalty checks issued to his late brother, O’Kelly Isley, and others, using the money to support a luxurious lifestyle. At one time, he owned an 87-foot yacht, expensive cars, and homes in Los Angeles and St. Louis. The government said Isley created a network of bank accounts and shell corporations to hide his income.

More than 20 witnesses testified against him during a three-week trial in Los Angeles federal court. Among them was his former tour manager, Ruby Martin, who said that Isley regularly insisted on being paid in “cash money.”

After deliberating for three hours, the jury found Isley guilty of five counts of tax evasion and one count of willful failure to file a tax return in 2002.


According to his federal indictment, Isley declared bankruptcy in 1997 after the IRS seized his property. He was discharged from bankruptcy four years later.

Isley and his brothers, Rudolph and O’Kelly, first gained national attention with their hit “Shout” in 1959. In 1964, the brothers for a time employed a guitarist named Jimi Hendrix, who would later transform rock guitar before his death in 1970.

The group has turned out more than 40 albums. The most recent was the Grammy-nominated CD “Body Kiss.”

Times staff writer Sam Quinones contributed to this report.