Richard Hatch became the first winner of the hit CBS show “Survivor” in 2000, but in the 11 years since, he’s had to survive more than backstabbing teammates, physical challenges and meals consisting of insects.
In 2006, Hatch, who is gay, was sentenced by a judge in Rhode Island to 51 months in federal prison on tax evasion charges, and was freed on probation in 2009. Prosecutors argued that Hatch failed to report his $1 million in winnings from “Survivor,” and money from subsequent public appearances. Hatch denied all charges. Earlier this year he was back in prison on charges of violating his parole after prosecutors claimed the 50-year-old reality TV star failed to re-file his 2000 federal income tax returns, a charge that Hatch denies.
“The prosecutor in this case is nothing short of a bully, and what I’ve been subjected to is nothing short of institutionalized bullying by the prosecutors, the probation department and the judge involved,” Hatch told the Blade just days after his Dec. 12 release from prison. “That’s provable, that’s observable by any objective viewers.”
“I’m absolutely innocent and have been since day one,” Hatch insisted.
Since winning “Survivor,” Hatch has been in and out of legal trouble, including a short arrest in 2009 as a result of granting several interviews with media outlets that were seen as a violation of the terms of his probation. Since his legal woes began in 2005, Hatch has maintained he never intentionally broke the law.
“It’s 2011 and they haven’t yet determined if something is owed for 2000,” Hatch told the Blade. “And all the prosecutor has done is prevented us from getting to the truth by lying to the court and claiming that my arguments aren’t valid when the IRS agents have verified everything I’ve claimed all along from day one.”
He continued, “They convicted me of attempting to evade taxes in 2006 that to this day have never been determined to be due,” Hatch said. “I filed that return in 2002 at the instruction and direction of the IRS using the numbers that they told me to use, I’ve been working with them through a tax attorney and a CPA ever since, and they have yet to complete the assessment for that year, 11 years later now.”
Hatch says he’s fully complied with the terms of his probation.
“When I was on probation, ‘Survivor’ created a show for me this ‘Redemption Island’ they invited me back to face Russell [Hantz],” Hatch told the Blade. “I’d completed my entire sentence, was on probation, perfectly compliant with anything and everything they ever asked, and probation fought the return of my passport, and prevented me, basically, from going on ‘Survivor.’”
“That’s twice now that I’ve been invited and they’ve refused to give me my passport while hypocritically lying, claiming I owe taxes — which I don’t — and arguing with the court that I’m refusing to pay them,” he continued. “So they’re blocking my ability to earn an income, and at the same time telling the court that I won’t pay. And none of it’s true.”
Hatch said that his jail time is the result of bias.
“I’ve learned how absurd these courts are. The original judge, who was biased against me, and held off his retirement to hear the case because he’d been admonished in an earlier case of mine for overstepping his bounds, he should have recused himself and didn’t — [Earnest C.] Torres — and this current judge, his mentee, his protege, William Smith, know so little about taxes they just don’t care. They listen to the prosecutor’s lies, and do whatever they tell them to do.”
“That in itself is reprehensible,” he added.
Hatch declined to answer questions about whether he’s found a job and a place to live after several media reports claimed that Hatch was homeless after his stint in prison.
“It’s just nobody’s business where I’m living and what I’m doing. I have much on my plate, I have some really fascinating opportunities that I’m working on. I’m not interested in talking about it.”
When asked whether he is homeless, Hatch replied, “Again, report whatever you’d like, I’ll give you the same answer, I don’t know where I’m staying.”
Hatch views the American justice system as deeply flawed.
“It’s not just because of my notoriety. It’s mostly because of my unconventionality, part of which is because I’m gay.”
Hatch said that unconventional people like himself — gay people, women, and African Americans — are unfairly targeted and “bullied” by a broken justice system.
“When you have people who want to take advantage of you, abuse you, persecute you, continue to feed the media caricature of this negative image, just because I’m an unconventional guy, that’s what they’ll do.”
Hatch said that the homophobia he claims he faced during his ordeal was not in prison, but in the court system.
“In prison I didn’t face anything significant that’s worth talking about as far as negativity from my peers,” he said. “I faced the same variety of subtle indignities that are brought by people in positions of power who don’t respect those positions and are insecure and otherwise mentally ill. And do things to abuse people who aren’t able to defend themselves.”