By Mary Shaffrey

The wife of the Richmond City Council member who in 1999 demanded that a portrait of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee be removed from a public walkway pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiring to defraud the federal government.

Beverly D. Crawford’s plea, disclosed by U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson, was part of an agreement she reached with prosecutors. Crawford, 48, is the wife of council member Sa’ad El-Amin, who is charged with separate counts and goes on trial next week.

Crawford was not present at yesterday’s hearing. She will be sentenced June 6 and faces up to 70 years in prison.

Neither Crawford nor Mr. El-Amin, a Democrat, were available for comment yesterday.

The case against Mr. El-Amin, 62, was postponed until Friday because he didn’t have an attorney present yesterday. If convicted, he faces up to 68 years in prison. The judge told Mr. El-Amin, a lawyer who was disbarred last year, not to discuss the case with his wife.

Mr. El-Amin in 1999 demanded that Lee’s portrait be removed from a public walkway in Richmond. He has since turned a critical eye to Monument Avenue, a historic street in Richmond that includes large statues of Confederate war heroes.

"We have to dismantle this whole Confederate infrastructure because it glorifies slavery," Mr. El-Amin told The Washington Times in 2000.

Last week, a federal grand jury indicted Mr. El-Amin and Crawford each on 16 counts of fraud, including income tax evasion and bankruptcy fraud.

Prosecutors said Mr. El-Amin, Crawford and their former law firms owe the Internal Revenue Service more than $700,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest. Prosecutors also charged that Mr. El-Amin failed to file individual tax returns for the past three years.

In her plea yesterday, Crawford admitted she did not file tax returns from 1994 to 1997, and from 2000 to 2001. In recent years, IRS officials tried to visit the couple more than 10 times, according to prosecutors. As a result, the IRS collected $79,109 from the couple over an 11-year period, the indictment said.

Richmond Mayor Rudolph C. McCollum Jr., a Democrat, asked City Attorney John A. Rupp to study the federal charges and determine whether they relate to Mr. El-Amin’s council duties. Mr. Rupp said earlier this week he found no connection.

Crawford also was charged with bank fraud irelated to a 1998 Lexus ES 300 she leased and ultimately purchased. Lexus Financial Services refused to give her a lease partly because of the back taxes she owed the IRS, according to the indictment.

She created a fake document bearing the IRS letterhead and stating that she had reached "a tax lien removal agreement" with the IRS, the indictment said. The letter was purportedly signed by an IRS official, but that official did not author the letter and had resigned a year before it was written, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors said Lexus Financial relied on Crawford’s letter when it granted her the lease.

The couple have filed for bankruptcy six times — five of which were disapproved. All of Mr. El-Amin’s available assets, however, were liquidated to pay creditors. The couple have opened and closed three law firms in Richmond, the last in 1995.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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