Sports Outside the Beltway

Tax filings say tennis stars paid Dad as their Manager

From today’s Palm Beach Post

Lawyers suing tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams have uncovered details in their father’s income tax filings that they say demonstrate “extensive inconsistencies” in the Williamses’ testimony about their financial relationship with their father.

The records show Serena and Venus Williams paid their father, Richard Williams, nearly $2 million in “management fees” from 1998 to 2000. The famous sisters have said in previous sworn statements that he was only a coach and mentor who did not manage them professionally.

The attorneys, who represent two tennis promoters suing the sisters for allegedly backing out of an exhibition tournament, shocked the Williamses’ defense team when they dug up the tax records in Richard Williams’ own divorce file in Palm Beach County court. Caught off guard, Richard Williams’ attorney tried unsuccessfully this week to have the tax filings sealed from public viewing.

The records offer a glimpse into the financial dealings of the man who raised the most successful siblings in tennis history, both of whom are Palm Beach Gardens residents. His attorney blasted the placement of the records into the case file as a violation of his privacy and an empty legal ploy, dismissing the “management fees” as a mischaracterization by the Williamses’ accountant.

But the promoters’ attorneys say the records undermine the Williamses’ claim that they did not breach a contract by backing out of the 2001 tournament because their father was not their manager and thus did not have authority to commit to the event.

Venus and Serena Williams have testified that their father was only a coach and mentor. Their actual manager, they said, was the sports marketing giant IMG.

And Richard Williams has testified that his daughters have paid him only for tennis instructions since the early 1990s.

Two promoters, Carol Clarke and Keith Rhodes, are suing the Williams sisters and their father because they say the sisters backed out of a contract to participate in an exhibition tournament called “Battle of the Sexes II — The Wow Event,” which was to be a reprise of the legendary 1973 match between women’s tennis great Billy Jean King and male player Bobby Riggs.

Richard Williams signed a letter in March 2001 committing them to play later that year. However, the sisters’ attorneys say because their father was not their manager he did not have the authority to make the deal.

What is dumber, lying to the IRS or lying in court? I can imagine Venus and Serena’s taxes are quite complicated, but that doesn’t excuse them from their testimony. Richard on the other hand looks like he committed perjury.

I do tax preperation work for a living. It never fails to amaze me how some famous people get tripped up by mistakes on their taxes or their faliure to disclose their income. They make enough money to hire professional help but seem not to want to use it properly. I would advise the Williamses to quietly settle this lawsuit. Their legal and tax problems may be just starting.

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