By Teresa Ambord
Actor and tax protester Wesley Snipes is almost a free man again, at age fifty. He was released from prison April 2, transferred to the New York Community Corrections Office, and will remain on house arrest till July 19. That means he has now completed 90 percent of his three-year sentence for tax fraud and failure to file tax returns. The "discount" of 10 percent of the sentence may have been granted for good behavior.
Snipes' trouble started back in 2006 when he says he believed the wrong guys for tax advice and money management. He bought into an argument by former accountant Douglas P. Rosile and antitax advocate Eddie Ray Kahn who convinced him he didn't owe federal taxes. That led him to file for refunds for millions of dollars of tax already paid, to stop paying tax he owed, and to stop filing returns. Here's a timeline recap of what happened:
- In 2006 Snipes was accused of tax fraud, including the attempt to claim nearly $12 million in fraudulent tax refunds. The refunds were for taxes he had paid in 1996 and 1997, which he had come to believe were not legitimate tax liabilities. Filing for the refunds brought felony charges. He was also accused of failing to file tax returns from 1999 to 2004, which brought misdemeanor charges.
- The trial began in 2008. Snipes' defense team, led by attorney Billy Martin, felt certain the government hadn't met the burden of proof. They presented a long list of potential witnesses and felt they had a solid defense. Yet after less than an hour, and without calling any witnesses, the defense rested. The government called IRS agent, Steward Stich who brought evidence that Snipes earned about $37.9 million from 1999 to 2004 but failed to file returns or pay taxes. Stich also testified that Snipes had tried to get back the $12 million he'd paid in for previous years. Snipes plead not guilty on all counts. He was acquitted of the felony federal fraud and conspiracy charges, but he was convicted of the misdemeanor charges of failing to file returns for five years. He was sentenced to the maximum penalty, three years in prison. (Had he been convicted on all counts, he could've faced up to sixteen years in prison.)
- After the conviction, Snipes appealed, more than once. Among other factors, he said that there was a racist element in his conviction, since he faced an all-white jury in Ocala, Florida. He said Ocala was a "racist" area, a "hotbed of KKK activity."
- Originally, he was supposed to report to prison in June 2008, but that was delayed because of the appeal.
- In November 19, 2010, his request for a new trial was denied.
- On December 9, 2010, he reported to prison at Federal Correctional Institution – McKean in northwest Pennsylvania.
- From behind bars, he appealed to the US Supreme Court, but on June 6, 2011, the high court denied him a hearing. That was the end of the line, and Snipes then had no choice but to serve out his sentence.
The rest is history. When the charges first surfaced, Snipes was filming a movie in Namibia. The movie, Gallowwalkers, was released last year in the United Kingdom and is scheduled for release in the United States in 2013.
Meanwhile, Snipes' codefendants have also been serving time. The same jury that convicted Snipes convicted his former advisors, Kahn and Rosile, on charges of tax fraud and conspiracy. Kahn was sentenced to ten years and Rosile was sentenced to four and a half years.