AP Photo/Phil Sandlin
AP Photo/Phil Sandlin
Wesley Snipes fought the law. Unfortunately for him, the law won.
Senior U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges has sentenced the tax-averse Blade star to three years in prison, resulting from his conviction on three misdemeanor counts of willful failure to file a tax return earlier this year.
The punishment is the maximum sentence Snipes could face after a federal jury found him guilty on Feb. 1.
When a reporter asked Snipes outside the courthouse whether he had anything to say, the actor spread his arms and said, "Like what?"
"Not now," lawyer Dan Meachum added.
The Major League player was not immediately taken into custody, nor was codefendant Douglas Rosile, a former accountant who filled out Snipes' IRS-snubbing paperwork. He was sentenced to 54 months behind bars with three years supervised release. Snipes will get to serve one year on supervised release.
Eddie Ray Kahn, the founder of American Rights Litigators and the head of a group that supports the "legal" avoidance of income taxes, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He had refused to defend himself during the trial.
Snipes and Rosile, who along with Kahn was convicted of felony charges of tax fraud and conspiracy, will remain free until summoned by authorities to turn themselves in.
The harsh sentences came down after a daylong hearing in Ocala, Fla., in which both sides repeated their arguments as to whether or not the 45-year-old action star should face prison time for his IRS-dodging ways.
Snipes donned a black suit and tie for his day in court, arriving at the courthouse with an entourage of roughly a dozen briefcase-toting hangers-on.
In court, he apologized for his actions in a prepared statement, although he never used the word "taxes," as in, his "willful failure to pay them."
"I am an idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance," Snipes said, referring to himself as "well-intended but miseducated."
TV gavel-wielder Judge Greg Mathis was among those present in the courtroom for the sentencing. Mathis, along with Woody Harrelson, Denzel Washington and another small-screen jurist, Judge Joe Brown, wrote letters in defense of Snipes, which were made public yesterday and read in court today prior to the actor's sentencing.
The prosecution had long made clear they were gunning for the maximum sentence for the star.
While jurors cleared Snipes of two felony charges and three additional misdemeanors back in February, he was found guilty of willful failure to file his returns between 1999-2001, neglecting to report millions of dollars of income to the IRS. The exact figure ended up being contested, with Snipes' attorneys claiming the star was liable for only $228,000, while the feds claimed the figure was considerably higher—$2.7 million, to be exact.
When Carmen Hernandez, one of Snipes' attorneys, argued regardless that this morning that Snipes' crimes weren't serious enough to warrant the maximum sentence, Hodges quickly set her straight.
"Any offense that places my liberty at risk is a serious one," the judge replied.
In a 37-page memo to the court filed earlier this month, U.S. Attorney Robert E. O'Neill called Snipes a "notorious" and repeat offender who should be made an example, not only because of the amount of money involved, but because of the high-profile—and, O'Neill said, misleading—nature of the case.
In his petition, he said the star's team has spun the jury's convictions "in the mainstream media as a 'victory' for Snipes" and urged the judge to send the message that Snipes did not in fact "beat the rap."