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Actor Snipes gets 3 years, apologizes for `costly mistakes’

April 25th, 2008 Posted in Celebrity Gossip

By TRAVIS REED

After haggling with revenue agents, criminal investigators and eventually U.S. prosecutors for almost a decade, Wesley Snipes finally caught them by surprise.

Hours before he was to be sentenced Thursday for failing to file income taxes he insisted he never had to pay, the action star cut the federal government three checks for $5 million, delivered in court.

So taken aback were prosecutors that they first declined the cash. But by the end of the day, the government took the money and more — a maximum three-year sentence for its highest-profile criminal tax target in decades.

“The sentencing court sends the right message to the American taxpayer — you’ve got to pay your taxes,” U.S. Attorney Robert O’Neill told reporters outside the usually quiet central Florida courthouse. “Rich, poor, it doesn’t matter. We all pay our taxes.”

Though Snipes was convicted of three counts of willfully failing to file returns, his trial was held by some as proof of victory for the tax protest movement. Snipes was acquitted of five other charges, including felony tax fraud and conspiracy, that would’ve exposed him to 13 more years in prison.

Criminal tax prosecutions are relatively rare — usually the cases are handled in civil court, where the government has a lower burden of proof.

Snipes’ attorneys argued the sentence was too stiff for a first-time offender convicted of three misdemeanors, and recommended he be given home detention and ordered to make public service announcements.

But U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges said Snipes exhibited a “history of contempt over a period of time” for U.S. tax laws.

“In my mind these are serious crimes, albeit misdemeanors,” Hodges said.

The action star of the “Blade” trilogy, “White Men Can’t Jump,” “Jungle Fever” and other films hasn’t filed a tax return since 1998, the government alleged. Snipes and the IRS still must determine how much he owes, plus interest and penalties. The government alleged Snipes made at least $13.8 million for the three years in question, owing at least $2.7 million in back taxes on them alone.

Snipes read aloud from a prepared apology, calling his actions “costly mistakes” but never mentioning the word “taxes.” He said he was the victim of crooked advisers, a liability of wealth and celebrity that attract “wolves and jackals like flies are attracted to meat.”

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