Disgraced former Kent professional soccer player and team owner Dion Earl pleaded guilty Monday to federal tax fraud in the third and final serious criminal case he faces prison time for.
Earl, 48, a former Seattle Pacific University standout, was serving a 12-year prison term for two Arizona sexual assaults when he was sentenced last month to serve an additional 33 months after pleading guilty in a decade-old Kirkland rape case. On Monday, Earl pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Seattle to a lone count in the nearly $1.1 million tax fraud case as part of a deal that will see federal prosecutors recommend prison time of one year and that he also pay $695,000 in restitution.
“He claimed that employers and former employers withheld very large amounts of federal income tax from his wages and that those amounts substantially exceeded the amounts due and owing on his wages,’’ assistant U.S. Attorney Arlen Storm said in court Monday. “As a result, he planned that he was due very large tax refunds. In fact, Dion Earl had not worked for many of the identified employers in years he’d claimed to have worked for them. And even when he did work for some of the employers that he’d claimed, they did not withhold the amount of withholding taxes that he’d claimed they had.’’
Storm stated in court — and Earl admitted in his guilty plea — that the fraud scheme involved several car dealerships he’d worked for. Earl also admitted to falsely inflating his income through his various businesses, including the Impact and soccer and tennis camps he owned, while overstating the mortgage interest he’d paid on four properties.
It was while carrying out the tax fraud scheme over a six-year period from 2008 to 2014 that Earl, who’d briefly played professionally for the indoor Seattle SeaDogs and outdoors for an earlier incarnation of the Sounders, purchased the rights to an expansion team in the fledgling Major Arena Soccer League in 2014 that he later dubbed the Seattle Impact.
Sentencing is set for April 9 in the tax fraud case in which U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnick will have the final say on Earl’s prison time. Earl faces a maximum of three years in prison on the count he pleaded guilty to while his deal with prosecutors will see four other charges related to the fraud get dropped.
The three separate convictions for sexual assault, rape and tax fraud are all to be served consecutively to one another, meaning Earl’s final tally will be a minimum of just fewer than 16 years of prison time. Earl had initially avoided criminal charges for several years after first coming under intense public scrutiny in late 2014 as owner of the Impact.
At the time, 22 of his players quit after the season opener to protest Earl’s treatment of them and other team employees — including two members of the Impact’s all-female dance squad who’d accused the owner of sexual assault. The King Country Sheriff’s Office declined to charge Earl criminally — citing a lack of evidence — though the dance squad members and other staffers later sued him for sexual assault and harassment in King County Superior Court and were awarded just less than $1 million in damages and court costs.
Earl was eventually forced by the league to disband the Impact and sell his local MASL territorial rights to the Tacoma Stars. That happened soon after a December 2014 story in The Seattle Times detailed the dance team members’ allegations and other misconduct claims made against him by women since the late 1990s.
Among those cases was a September 2009 rape investigation — in which Earl was the lone suspect — that Kirkland police say they inadvertently left dormant for several years. They wound up closing the case in December 2014, citing a lack of evidence, right after The Times story appeared.
But the case, in which a massage parlor worker said Earl raped her during an after-hours appointment, was reopened under a different lead detective shortly after Earl’s late 2017 arrest in Arizona on charges he’d sexually assaulted two women, 18 and 21, who were hired to babysit his children. Earl, who often commuted between residences in Kent and Arizona, was found guilty by a jury in Phoenix in an August 2019 trial in which the two former Impact dance team members were flown down by prosecutors to testify about their allegations against him.
By that point, the King County Prosecutor’s Office had also charged Earl with second degree rape in the reopened Kirkland case. He pleaded guilty last September to a lesser third-degree rape charge.
Storm stated in court Monday — and Earl admitted in his guilty plea — that even after the Internal Revenue Service began auditing him in 2013, he continued to make false tax claims to the agency.
Among them, Earl stated as late as 2015 that he and his wife had made $765,000 from his sports camps and the Impact and that those businesses withheld $180,000 in taxes. Earl subsequently sought a tax refund of $137,554, which was not paid to him.
But he had already received $1,093,534 in prior years’ tax refunds based off fraudulent federal claims. The restitution Earl agreed to pay includes $600,000 to the state of Arizona as a result of fraudulent tax claims he’d made there and another $95,000 to Key Bank for providing false income information in order to qualify for a home equity line of credit.