Blade Actor Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison

Wesley Snipes, best known for his portrayal of the vampire anti-hero in the Marvel comics movie Blade, was given prison time last night for not filing his taxes...

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The 45-year-old Hollywood actor was given the maximum sentence possible after prosecutors described him to a court in Ocala, Florida, as a “truly notorious offender.” He did not have to go to prison immediately but must surrender to custody at a later date.

Snipes sat expressionless as the sentence was handed down. Asked if he had any reaction, he spread his arms and shrugged. One of his lawyers, Carmen Hernandez, complained: “Mr Snipes was sentenced because he’s Mr Snipes.”

The decision by US District Court judge William Terrell Hodges came two months after a jury convicted Snipes on three counts of willfully failing to file federal tax returns from 1999 to 2001.

The court heard yesterday that Snipes dodged $15 million (£7.5 million) in tax through a campaign in which he concealed millions offshore, falsely applied for tax refunds and bombarded the Internal Revenue Service with frivolous correspondence that threatened government employees, railed about extortion and used twisted legal interpretations to back his claim that taxation was unlawful.

“For nearly a decade, Snipes has engaged in a campaign of criminal tax conduct combining brazen defiance with insidious concealment,” the prosecuting attorney, Robert O’Neill, told the court in a sentencing memorandum. “In the defendant Wesley Snipes, the court is presented with a wealthy, famous and inveterate tax scofflaw. If ever a tax offender was deserving of being held accountable to the maximum extent for his criminal wrongdoing, Snipes is that defendant.”

Wearing a black suit and black tie, Snipes — a twice divorced father of five aged from 1 to 19 — clasped his hands together in a gesture of prayer as he arrived at the courthouse.

“He is contrite, promises that he will never again break the law, and respectfully asks the court to consider not just the jury verdict but also all the good that he has done in his life,” his attorneys told the judge in a written document.

At the hearing Snipes’s lawyers tried to give the court three envelopes with cheques amounting to $5 million, but the judge and prosecutor said that they could not accept them. An official of the Internal Revenue Service collected the money during a recess.

Snipes’s big-screen career took off in 1987 after he caught the eye of the film director Spike Lee for his role as a gang leader in the Michael Jackson music video Bad. He went on to star in more than 40 films, taking roles that range from a crusading vampire to a jazz saxophonist.

But his belated contrition and celebrity failed to impress Judge Hodges, despite written pleas for leniency from 31 character witnesses including fellow acting stars Woody Harrelson and the Academy Award-winning Denzel Washington.

“Wesley is like a tree — a mighty oak . . . Many who know him have witnessed the fruit of his labours, have sat in his shade and even been protected by his presence,” wrote Washington. Harrelson called Snipes “a true citizen of the world” and said: “He strives for rightness in all his relations.”

Snipes’s tax advisers, Eddie Ray Kahn — who has previous convictions for tax crimes — and Douglas Rosile were also jailed, for ten years and 54 months respectively.

Snipes was cleared of more serious tax fraud charges in February. But Mr O’Neill warned supporters against describing that acquittal as a victory. “By virtue of his fame and his high-profile campaign of tax defiance, Snipes has become the public face of a movement whose members seize upon the slimmest of threads to justify their obstructive tactics,” he stated.
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