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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Surfer Sunny Garcia pleads guilty in tax case

By Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Courts Writer


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World-famous surfer Sunny Garcia faces possible prison time after pleading guilty to failing to report $161,450 in prize money on his federal tax return. The winnings came in 2000 from professional surfing meets around the world.

In a federal courtroom in San Diego yesterday, Garcia, who grew up in Wai'anae to become one of the world's best surfers, also admitted that he failed to report on his tax returns about $255,635 in prize money from 1996 to 2001.

"He acknowledges that he made very serious mistakes ... in failing to report his income, and he accepts full responsibility for his conduct," said Garcia's San Diego attorney, Steve Toscher, who spoke on behalf of his client. "He wants to go on to the next chapter in his life."

The charge carries a federal prison term of up to three years.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Cole in San Diego declined to comment on Garcia's sentence, but Toscher said the federal guidelines suggest a sentence of about 10 months in prison.

It'll be up to U.S. District Judge Thomas Whelan, however, to determine the appropriate sentence because the guidelines are advisory.

Vincent Sennen Garcia, widely known as Sunny Garcia, is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 28 in San Diego.

Garcia, whose residence is listed as Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., reported on his tax return that his total income for 2000 was $292,956 when he knew he had earned the additional prize money from surf meets at locations that included Fiji, Australia, South Africa, France, Spain, Portugal and Brazil, according to federal officials.

The additional tax for that year is $66,335, the Internal Revenue Service said.

For the years 1996 to 1999 and 2001, Garcia owed more than $50,000 in taxes, the IRS said.

"Today's plea serves as a reminder to all individuals, including world-famous professional sports figures, that income earned from all sources, whether earned domestically or overseas, should be accurately reported to the IRS," said Kenneth Hines, special agent in charge of the San Diego IRS office for criminal investigation.

Garcia has used the California home as his base of operations in past years and is no longer on the pro surfing circuit, but still is involved in the surfing community with promotions and sponsorships, Toscher said.

Garcia, who won the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing championships a record six times, joined the world tour when he was just 16. At age 18, he was ranked No. 16 in the world.

In November, at age 35, he announced he was leaving the world tour after 20 years. He said he wanted to spend more time on the North Shore with his family.

Asked how Garcia could fail to report his prize income for all those years, Toscher said his client "basically did not properly attend to those affairs."

"He knows what he did was wrong," he said.

Reach Ken Kobayashi at kkobayashi@honoluluadvertiser.com.