Years ago, when Steve Martin was performing his stand-up comedy act, he incorporated this scenario where he pretended to appear before a dour IRS auditor who asked him why he neglected to file his taxes.
Martin’s answer was short, sweet and not incidentally, hysterical. “I FORGOT!” he would bellow into the microphone. And the audience as you can imagine, ate it up.
Now, I’ve never had the courage to use that line before an auditor, but it continues to amaze me how many folks called on the carpet before the IRS continue to use similar shopworn explanations.
At this publication, you can imagine we get our share of stories about tax cheats – or “tax protesters” as they are often fond of referring to themselves — as well as the perfunctory letters declaring the 16th Amendment unconstitutional.
Take the case of action star Wesley Snipes, who, at press time, is preparing to go on trial for allegedly failing to pay taxes on the roughly $38 million he earned between the years 1999-2004.
Snipes — purportedly a college graduate — has repeatedly demonstrated the naïvete of the Beverly Hillbillies in this ongoing legal drama.
In 2000, he joined a group of tax protesters — American Rights Litigators — who somehow convinced the karate-kicking celebrity that U.S. citizens don’t have to pay taxes on wages they earn within domestic borders. Possibly through foolishness, but more likely through greed, he chose to believe them.
Had Snipes or his business manager/agent done even a modicum of research he would have no doubt discovered that the U.S. earnings claim has been repeatedly shot down in court and rejected by the IRS.
Flash forward to 2002.
Snipes was warned by the IRS that he was under investigation and that his tax arguments as well as those of ARL were frivolous.
Taking chutzpah to a new level, Snipes not only failed to file during the years in question, he also tried to get refunds in the amount of $11.3 million.
To the surprise of very few, his co-defendants in the case are the founders of ARL, one of whom is an accountant who had his license revoked in Florida and Ohio.
Snipes’ lawyer claims the actor was the “victim” (there’s that word again!) of unscrupulous advice and didn’t know he was doing anything wrong.
This claim of innocence comes despite Snipes sending letters to IRS agents in 2003 and 2004 warning the service that they had no authority to probe his tax situation.
If incredibly, Snipes was unaware, or somehow led to believe, the IRS doesn’t have the authority to investigate tax matters, then that’s sort of a siren call for a remedial lesson on civics and government.
If convicted, Snipes could be facing up to 16 years as a guest of the government.
The sad irony is that he probably could have sidestepped this quagmire had he just listened to an old Steve Martin routine.
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