Wesley Snipes has battled vampires, international terrorists, the New York Yankees, cryogenic imprisonment and Sylvester Stallone in his movies. But perhaps none of those on-screen enemies measures up in fear and dread inspired by the actor’s real-life opponent in a Florida courtroom: The Internal Revenue Service.
Snipes, 45, is currently standing trial in Ocala, Florida for federal tax fraud and conspiracy. The charges include failing to file tax returns between 1999 and 2004, a period in which Snipes earned $38 million.
If convicted, he faces 16 years in federal prison.
The long potential sentence reflects the key role prosecutors say Snipes played in the alleged tax evasion. He is not accused of being a celebrity jet-setter too busy or distracted for the lowly work of filing taxes. Nor is he accused of delegating to an unscrupulous business manager.
No, prosecutors say, Snipes purposefully flipped the IRS the financial bird after joining up with a fringe group, known as tax deniers, who insist there is no legal basis for the government to tax domestic income. The theory has been discredited by courts across the country repeatedly as a misreading of the law.
Snipes admits he did not pay taxes, but his attorneys told jurors in opening statement that the actor did not understand that he was doing something wrong. A defense lawyers said Snipes believed two co-defendants, tax deniers who introduced him to the group, were providing sound financial advice and that he tried to communicate with the IRS, even requesting that they audit him.