Actor Wesley Snipes has been found not guilty of tax fraud and conspiracy charges, but was convicted on three misdemeanor counts of failing to file a tax return.
Snipes and two co-defendants, a de-licensed accountant and a tax protest leader, were indicted in 2006. Snipes was also indicted on six counts of willful failure to file a tax return from 1999 to 2004, a period in which he signed two contracts for more than $10m on sequels in the Blade trilogy.
He was acquitted on three of those counts in Florida and convicted on the others. He could be sentenced to three years in prison after originally facing a possible 16 years.
Co-defendants Eddie Ray Kahn, the founder of a tax protest group, and Douglas Rosile, a de-licensed accountant, were convicted by the same jury of tax fraud and conspiracy.
Snipes sat expressionless until all of his verdicts were read. Then, defense lawyer Robert Bernhoft put his hand on the actor’s leg and Snipes nodded in relief. Rosile grimaced when his verdict was read. Kahn was not in attendance. He remains behind bars and argues the court has no jurisdiction to try him. The verdict from the five-man, seven-woman jury came on the third full day of deliberations.
Snipes, who starred in White Men Can’t Jump, is among the most famous targets of an IRS criminal investigation, and his prosecution was key for the US government. The actor used tax protest arguments long rejected by courts but still continuing to find adherents.
For example, Snipes said the IRS’s own code meant no citizen had to pay taxes on income earned in the country, and the agency had no legal authority to collect wages anyway, because it is not a proper government entity.
Snipes’ lawyers claimed he was victimized by crooked advisers, and tried for years to get the IRS to explain whether he owed taxes. Later, the actor threatened the government and individual agents in his pursuit, declaring himself a "nonresident alien" not subject to tax laws.
Prosecutors say Snipes paid taxes in the 1990s, but changed his mind after meeting Kahn in 2000. He allegedly stopped filing returns, illegally sought $11m in 1996 and 1997 taxes paid and drew fake checks to pay the US Treasury.