By Teresa Ambord
A few months ago actor Stephen Baldwin was arrested – and released – on charges of failure to pay his New York State income tax for three years. Based on those charges, he could have faced four years in prison. In early March he returned to court and entered a plea agreement to resolve the issue.
Here's what happened.
Last December, Baldwin, a resident of Upper Grandview, New York, was hit with a state tax lien for nearly $350,000 relating to tax years 2008, 2009, and 2010. He pled not guilty and was released without bail, subject to a future court appearance.
At the time of his arrest, Baldwin told reporters, "I didn't commit a crime." To show good faith, he gave authorities a payment of $100,000. He characterized the payment "as a sign to the state and district attorney that I'm working to get this resolved."
His attorney, Russell Yankwitt, added, "Stephen Baldwin is not guilty of any crimes but is working diligently with the New York state authorities and the district attorney's office to resolve any disputes they have. Stephen has the utmost respect for the government officials and is confident that working together, they'll reach an amicable resolution."
Return to Court
On March 11, Baldwin was back in court in a closed-door meeting, where he worked out a tentative plea deal that allows him to avoid jail time, said Yankwitt. If the debt is paid within one year as Baldwin hopes, the felony could disappear. If he's unable to pay within one year, he'll have five years to settle the debt.
After the meeting, his attorney told reporters, "He's happy that he's not going to jail. He's happy the district attorney's office saw it was in Rockland County's best interest to have Steve remain a productive member of society." Yankwitt indicated that the district attorney appeared to understand there was no intention on Baldwin's part to break the law.
"He's upset he got into this situation in the first place by depending on others. He never intended to defraud anyone. He simply was running around trying to make a living and relying on others," the lawyer said. As is often the case among actors and sports stars, Baldwin's trouble may have begun when he relied on the advice of an accountant and an attorney.
A Matter of Principle
Yankwitt added that it isn't easy for Baldwin – the youngest of the four Baldwin brothers, all actors – to make a living these days. He has appeared in movies like The Usual Suspects and Born on the Fourth of July, but today, because of his religious beliefs, he won't appear in movies that include what he feels are destructive elements.
"The economy is not what it was, and Mr. Baldwin is a faith-based actor, which makes it harder to get roles," said Yankwitt, describing Baldwin as a born-again Christian. "In the past, he did movies that portrayed violence and drugs. He no longer does those types of movies."
Last year Baldwin appeared on Celebrity Apprentice and is also in the season currently airing. He does some commercials and is finding ways to pay his bills without violating his principles.
In an interview with CBSNews.com, Baldwin said, "In the mainstream Hollywood industry, anybody who stands up and starts screaming 'Jesus' is gonna be looked on as a bit of a freak, which I am. . . . People get a little freaked out. They think you're going to show up and wave your Bible, but I'm not into that."
Baldwin's brothers Alec, William, and Daniel are also actors and have been very supportive, acknowledging that there was no intent on Stephen's part to commit fraud.