Prosecutors are asking the judge overseeing the Wesley Snipes tax evasion case to give the actor three years in prison and a fine of $5 million, even though a jury cleared him of felony charges.
The jury found Snipes guilty of three misdemeanor charges for failing to file a tax return for three years, but cleared him of felony charges of tax fraud and conspiracy along with other misdemeanor charges (see Snipes Not Guilty of Tax Felonies).
U.S. District Judge William Hodges is scheduled to sentence the Blade trilogy star on April 22 in Ocala, Fla. However, the Justice Department has filed court papers asking the judge to impose the harshest sentence possible in order to send a message to other tax defiers who have been paying attention to the high-profile case. Snipes had subscribed to the views of tax defiance proponents who insist that most forms of income tax are unconstitutional.
"The fact that Snipes was acquitted on two felony charges and convicted 'only' on three misdemeanor counts has been portrayed in the mainstream media as a 'victory' for Snipes," said U.S. Attorney Robert E. O'Neill in a 37-page memo.
"The troubling implication of such coverage for the millions of average citizens who are aware of this case is that the rich and famous Wesley Snipes has 'gotten away with it.' In the end the criminal conduct of Snipes must not be seen in such a light," O'Neill added.
"Snipes has become the troubling face of a movement whose members seize upon the slimmest of threads to justify their obstructive tactics," said O'Neill.
Prosecutors claim that Snipes has "escaped paying more than $15 million to the IRS" and tried to deprive the U.S. Treasury of more than $41 million. Snipes had faced charges of failing to file tax returns on at least $58 million he and his movie company earned from 1999 to 2004 and asking the Internal Revenue Service for refunds of $11 million for the taxes he paid in 1996 and 1997. The IRS is pursuing Snipes in civil court to force him to repay all the taxes he owes, with interest.
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