The tax man has cometh for Wesley Snipes. But it could have been worse.
After three days of deliberations, a federal jury in Ocala, Florida, acquitted the IRS-averse Blade star of federal tax fraud and conspiracy charges but convicted him on three misdemeanor counts of failing to file a tax return.
The 45-year-old actor could be sentenced to up to three years in federal prison. While grim, it's a far cry from the 16 years of hard time the thesp faced, should he have been found guilty on all eights counts.
He's still liable for millions in back taxes that the government may try to collect in civil court, however.
"Mr. Snipes has always been committed to doing the right thing, and after this trial is over he'll make whatever amends are required," attorney Robert Bernhoft said following the verdict. "This is a man of integrity."
"I'm feeling great," Snipes told People after court. "A little confused, but great."
Asked if he was concerned about going to prison, he said, "I don't know. It's nice to be out here with you right now. We live in the moment."
The IRS had claimed Snipes attempted to receive a bogus $12 million refund, tried to pay taxes with nonlegal tender and failed to pay taxes on more than $58 million in income.
In 2006, Snipes was indicted on one count each of federal tax fraud and conspiracy and six counts of willful failure to file a tax return from 1999 to 2004. Snipes wound up convicted of three of the latter charges.
Snipes, who had pleaded not guilty to all counts, also made off much better than his two codefendants, tax protest group founder Eddie Ray Kahn and loophole-seeking accountant Douglas P. Rosile.
Unlike Snipes, the two men were convicted by the all-white, seven-woman, five-man jury of the much more damning charges of tax fraud and conspiracy.
While the prosecutors argued their case for two full weeks, Snipes' defense made do with less than an hour in the courtroom before resting on Monday, claiming the prosecutors bore "the complete failure of their burden" and the case should have been brought in civil, not criminal, court.
Snipes' defense team maintained he was simply the victim of unscrupulous tax advisers. In their closing arguments Friday, the legal eagles ratcheted up the rhetoric, acknowledging that their client was "kooky" and "dead wrong," but imploring the jury to realize that "disagreement with the IRS is not fraud of the IRS."
The jury, it seems, bought it.
"We thought there was sufficient evidence for a conviction on all counts, but obviously the jury disagreed," U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill said.