Let me preface my weekly missive with the admission that I’m a Wesley Snipes groupie.
The smooth-talking, rapid-fire action star has made roughly 50 movies, of which I estimate I’ve seen 48. Whether it’s his sensitive portrayal of a quadriplegic in “The Waterdance,” a cynical detective in “Murder at 1600,” a ruthless crack czar in “New Jack City,” or the taciturn vampire slayer in the “Blade” triology, I own and have seen them all -- even some of his more embarrassing efforts, like “Undisputed,” that have gone the straight-to-video route.
When I spotted him once walking down 57th Street in New York several years ago, I was, like most people who see celebrities up close and personal, surprised that he was roughly the same size as me. They always look bigger on screen don’t they?
You can imagine that as a fan, I’m a bit disheartened that he has become the latest in a line of people accused of opting -- either by being naïve, or calculating -- for the dubious 861 argument, which claims that only income derived from foreign-based ventures was taxable.
Last week the government charged Snipes with eight counts of tax fraud, claiming the star sidestepped paying income taxes from 1999-2004, but attempted to receive an $11 million refund for the taxes he did pay in the 1990s.
In a script that Snipes should consider optioning for an episode on his career on “True Hollywood Stories,” it seems he was either convinced by, or willingly went along with, his “tax advisors” Eddie Ray Kahn and Douglas Rosile, an incredible decision that has mired him in this malaise.
But first, a little background.
Kahn was a founder of a group known as American Rights Litigators, which eventually evolved into something called the Guiding Light of God Ministries. It was billed as a “ministry dedicated to assisting men and women in their pursuit of freedom as Americans.” However, the feds basically exposed the sham company for what it was, a for-profit operation that sold fraudulent tax schemes. According to the indictment, Snipes paid Kahn a consulting fee and paid to become a member of his American Rights Litigators group.
But wait -- there’s more.
Rosile was a CPA whose license to practice in Florida and Ohio were revoked. He allegedly worked with Kahn to file tax returns for clients to claim refunds based on the 861 argument, which incidentally no U.S. Court has ever supported. Kahn would then take 20 percent of the refund, with half of it going to Rosile.
The allegation claims that with guidance and assurance from Kahn and Rosile, Snipes stopped filling out his 1040s altogether in 2000.
If convicted, Snipes faces up to 16 years in prison. Kahn, meanwhile, is in Panama, while Rosile has surrendered to authorities.
Now I’m fairly certain most Hollywood stars earning seven-figure incomes such as Snipes have business managers who are compensated handsomely to advise them on matters such as these.
Snipes is also college-educated, so it’s not as if he arrived in Hollywood with a tabula rasa as to the mandate of paying taxes on earned income here in the United States.
Possibly through stupidity, but more likely through greed, Snipes’ actions have ensconced him in that pantheon of celebrities such as Willie Nelson, Wayne Newton and Mike Tyson who have become lifelong pen pals with the Internal Revenue Service.
For his sake, let’s hope the above-mentioned “pen” is one that will allow him to write checks to the Treasury, rather than merely an abbreviation of his future residence.
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