Saturday, February 02, 2008

Snipes acquitted of tax fraud

Quite surprising, actor Wesley Snipes has been acquitted of tax fraud.

The NY Times reports:

The actor Wesley Snipes was acquitted of the most serious charges against him on Friday in the most prominent tax prosecution since Leona Helmsley, the billionaire hotelier, was convicted of tax fraud in 1989.

Mr. Snipes was found not guilty on two felony charges of fraud and conspiracy. He was also acquitted on three misdemeanor charges of failing to file tax returns or to pay taxes, but was convicted on three others. He faces up to three years in prison.

Mr. Snipes had become an unlikely public face for the tax-denier movement, whose members maintain that Americans are not obligated to pay income taxes and that the government extracts taxes from its citizens illegally.

Snipes' two co-defendants, a prominent tax denier and a disbarred accountant, were on the other hand convinced on separate felony count. Since Snipes relied on their advice, it clearly demonstrates that while Snipes are getting off relatively light, it's not because of the court buying into the legal arguments, but rather because he is considered less guilty of fraud than the ones who gave him the fraudulent advice.

Considering the legal minds helping Snipes, I am actually surprised he got off so lightly. Just look at this example from the NY Times article:

Kenneth I. Starr, a New York accountant who had long prepared Mr. Snipes’s tax returns, testified that he dropped Mr. Snipes as a client after he refused to pay taxes. Defense lawyers tried to attack Mr. Starr’s credibility, portraying him as dishonest and the target of a grand jury inquiry — accusations that Mr. Starr rebutted by pointing out that he was a witness before the grand jury, not its target.

Why would anyone that incompetent be allowed to practice law? Of course, at least some of them were part of the tax denier movement as well:

The lead lawyer among the six representing Mr. Snipes, Robert G. Bernhoft of Milwaukee, has been under a federal court order since 1999 barring him from selling materials that supposedly relieve people of the need to pay taxes.

Normally, I wouldn't care much about celebrity cases like this one, but Snipes is using the standard rhetorics of the tax denier movement, which is heavily represented in the far right circles like Christian Identity.

I find it a bit problematic that Snipes was acquitted over something that was obviously fraudulent, but it's good that the advisers were found guilty. Now, it's going to be interesting to see what kind of jail time Snipes gets. He faces up to 3 years, and I would suspect that he'll get a fairly heavy punishment within that frame.

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