Actor Snipes Gets 3 Years for Tax Charges
OCALA, Fla. — The actor Wesley Snipes was sentenced to a maximum of three years in federal prison on Thursday for three misdemeanor convictions of failure to file his income taxes.
Mr. Snipes was also sentenced to one year of supervised release. He remained free Thursday, and will be notified later when he should report to prison.
His lawyer requested a facility not too far from his family’s home in New Jersey, and the judge said he would recommend that.
Mr. Snipes was convicted by a federal jury on Feb. 1 on three of the lesser charges that he faced and was acquitted on the most serious charges.
The case was the most prominent tax prosecution since the billionaire hotelier Leona Helmsley was convicted of tax fraud in 1989. Mr. Snipes, who has built a worldwide following acting in films like the “Blade” vampire trilogy, had become an unlikely public face for the tax denier movement, whose members maintain that Americans are not obligated to pay income taxes and that the government extracts taxes from its citizens illegally.
Tax deniers assert variously that the tax laws are valid but do not apply to them, that no law makes anyone liable for taxes and that the government tricks people into paying. Promoters of tax denial claim that people can legally stop paying income taxes by executing certain documents, or by not signing others, like tax returns. Courts have rejected all these arguments.
Thursday, after a day-long hearing, Federal District Judge William Terrell Hodges talked of the importance of deterrence in tax cases and noted that, despite Mr. Snipes’ apology in court, he had a years-long record of defying the tax laws.
No fine was imposed. The judge left that to the civil process.
Mr. Snipes was seated as he heard the judge’s sentence. He had a stoic expression and pursed his lips repeatedly. Later, his wife, Nikki Park, collapsed in tears outside the courtroom.
A member of Mr. Snipes’ legal team said they would appeal.
“We were hoping for a complete acquittal,” a lawyer for Mr. Snipes, Linda Moreno, said. “I have faith in the process, and I have faith in the jury system. We will appeal.”
Mr. Snipes’ co-defendants Eddie Ray Kahn and Douglas Rosile — who were convicted on two felony counts — received longer sentences.
Mr. Kahn — who has refused throughout to acknowledge Hodges’ authority — was given the maximum sentence of 10 years, plus three years of supervised release.
Mr. Rosile was sentenced to four and a half years in prison and three years of supervised release.
Mr. Snipes was indicted in October 2006 for filing a false claim for a $7 million refund (of taxes paid in 1997, before he stopped paying taxes), and conspiracy with his two co-defendants to defraud the government through that claim, which was not paid.
Since 1986, Mr. Snipes has appeared in more than 50 films, earning at least $103 million, court papers showed, including more than $58 million in the years covered by the indictment, 1999 through 2004.
Mr. Snipes arrived at the federal courthouse on Thursday in a black sports utility vehicle. Wearing a black suit, white shirt and black tie, he walked up the sidewalk with a bit of a slow-but-confident swagger.
As Mr. Snipes approached the courthouse door, he was greeted by about 15 photographers and 20 reporters, standing behind yellow crime scene tape with about half a dozen police officers keeping order.
He waved and flashed a peace sign; a reporter yelled a question. Mr. Snipes looked at the reporter but did not response. He clasped his hands in front of his face in a prayer-like gesture and bowed his head.
Then he walked into the courthouse.