NEWARK — Moments before Lauryn Hill admitted today to federal income tax evasion, U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Shipp asked the eight-time Grammy winner if anyone had forced her — either directly or indirectly — to enter the guilty plea.
Hill took a long pause, then said: "Directly, no, but indirectly, yes."
She then consulted with her attorney, Nathan Hockman, in whispers before answering "No" when the judge asked the question a second time.
"Ms. Hill is very particular about language," Hockman said. "Language is very important to Ms. Hill."
Hill then pleaded guilty to not paying federal taxes on $1.8 million she earned over three years.
The 37-year-old South Orange native and mother of six could face up to three years in prison and at least $75,000 in fines when she is sentenced in November.
Hockman said the singer had been targeted by the federal government because of her celebrity status.
"There are many people in society who fail to file their taxes on time who only face civil liability," he said. "They chose Ms. Hill in particular because of who she was."
Hockman said Hill planned to pay back the taxes she owes.
Wearing a white button-down shirt, blue blazer and long, coral skirt, Hill spoke sparingly at today’s hearing in federal court in Newark. Hill appeared startled when Shipp ordered her to undergo mental health counseling as directed by pre-trial intervention services. Through her attorney, Hill asked the judge to clarify what he meant by the word "directed."
"I want to make sure you understand that term," Shipp said.
"I don’t understand that term," Hill responded.
It is unclear why court mandated counseling is required for Hill and the judge refused to clarify any further.
In pleading guilty, Hill admitted she failed to pay taxes on about $818,000 earned in 2005; $222,000 in 2006 and $761,000 in 2007. She owns four corporations — Creations Music Inc., Boogie Tours Inc., L.H. Productions 2001 Inc. and Studio 22 Inc. — and generates most of her income from royalties from the recording and film industries.
Earlier this month, Hill used a personal website to post a lengthy explanation for why she failed to file her taxes, writing that she withdrew from society to keep herself and her family safe.
She denounced pop culture’s "climate of hostility, false entitlement, manipulation, racial prejudice, sexism and ageism."
"I did not deliberately abandon my fans, nor did I deliberately abandon any responsibilities, but I did however put my safety, health and freedom and the freedom, safety and health of my family first over all other material concerns!" Hill wrote.
Hill is not the first celebrity to run into tax trouble. Martha Stewart, Lindsey Lohan and Al Pacino, among others, have also been cited for failure to pay federal taxes.
Hill rose to fame as a member of the Fugees in the 1990s. Her debut solo album, "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," sold more than 10 million copies after its release in 1998 and won five Grammy awards.
Since then, her musical output and public appearances slowed dramatically.
She released only one other album and appeared on a handful of singles, largely retreating from public life to raise her six children. Rohan Marley, son of reggae legend Bob Marley, is father to five of them.
To repay the government the money she owes, Hill will have to amp up her work schedule, Hockman said. On July 4, she will perform in Philadelphia and will continue touring regularly over the coming months.
Hockman requested that Hill’s sentencing date be extended until January to give her more time to gather the money she needs to "make the government whole," Hockman said. Shipp originally proposed a sentencing date in early October and agreed to a late November sentencing as a compromise.
"Ms. Hill is touring for no other reason than that she is a musician," Hockman said. "She will use some of the money earned to pay off what she owes."