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Prominent attorney pleads guilty to tax evasion

Larry Handfield to serve one year probation, pay $78K

Miami Times staff report | 12/23/2013, 6 p.m.

Criminal defense attorney, Larry Handfield, has pleaded guilty of filing false tax returns — two misdemeanor charges — and must pay $78,842 in restitution along with serving 12 months of probation. The conviction comes as a shock to Miami’s Black community in which Handfield, 57, grew up and which he continually supported through his time and financial gifts. Now he faces an inquiry from the Florida Bar whose responsibilities include monitoring the State’s attorneys.

Handfield has held several prominent positions as a Miami attorney, including former chairman of the Public Health Trust, the Florida Commission on Ethics, the first chairman of the Miami Civilian Investigative Panel and the chairman of Bethune-Cookman University’s [B-CU] board of trustees.

He stepped down from the position last September but remained a major donor to his alma mater — as is evidenced from a recently-completed $4.6M athletic center named after him, as is the University’s music building. A bronze portrait of Handfield welcomes visitors to B-CU’s performing arts center.

Handfield also holds the distinction of completing a four-year term as chairman of Jackson Health System in 2006, which oversaw a $1.5B budget and more than 13,000 employees. In that same year, he reported a business income of $439,940 with total gross receipts of $670,843. But according to federal officials, he underreported the amount by $196,587. He underreported his gross income by $84,992 the next year, officials say.

Handfield could have faced one year in prison on each count but U.S. Judge Cecilia Altonaga agreed to the probation after the lawyer, a first-time offender, showed evidence of his “extraordinary community and charitable services.”

Handfield becomes the second well-known Black attorney caught up in legal misdoings. Lynn Washington, 55, a champion of low-income residents, is facing prison time for taking $520,000 in public money. He will be sentenced next year and has pleaded guilty to grand theft. Washington admitted stealing from his client, the Urban League of Greater Miami, and was ordered to give up his law license.