"It's important that the law-abiding taxpayers of the United States are not dupes for following the law," prosecutor Karen Kelly told the judge, also noting that Bain has yet to file returns for 2009 or 2010.
Bain pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to file returns - one for the IRS and one for the District of Columbia, where she ran a public relations firm from the basement of her home. She specialized in handling media relations for high profile clients, including tennis star Serena Williams, longtime Washington mayor and councilman Marion Barry and rhythm and blues vocal group Boyz II Men.
Her attorney said the criminal charges have damaged her business because clients don't want someone with her problems speaking on their behalf.
Bain became Jackson's spokeswoman in 2003 and the singer promoted her to head of his company in 2006 after his child molestation trial. She said she was responsible for rehabilitating his image and finances, including negotiating the release of a CD to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his "Thriller" album, refinancing his loan to keep the Beatles' song catalog, and negotiations that led to a sold-out concert series in London cancelled because of his death. In 2009, she sued him for $44 million she said she was owed for handling the deals - one of many former Jackson associates to sue for failure to pay - but attorneys for his estate successfully argued to have the case thrown out last year.
Still, Bain spoke affectionately of her former boss in court Tuesday, referring to him as "the late king of pop Michael Jackson" in reading a statement to the judge pleading for mercy. She sobbed as she recalled how he and her mother, who had Alzheimer's disease, died six months apart in 2009.
"Addressing their needs, your honor, became my mission," she said in a quiet voice, shaking with emotion. She noted that she was granted extensions to file her taxes and said she had an appointment with her accountant to do so when the IRS came to her door.
"I was wrong not to stop and get things done and to focus, but I was an emotional wreck," she said.
Kay responded that being busy isn't an excuse for failing to file tax returns.
He said Bain clearly had the resources and staff available to help her, noting prosecutors found deposits of roughly $1.3 million during the three years she didn't file taxes. But he said he would not send her to jail for the first-time offense. He gave her a 90-day sentence but suspended it and instead ordered the probation.