Federal government prosecutors have filed their sentencing memorandum with the federal court which asks the judge to sentence Wesley Snipes to the maximum prison sentence for his recent criminal convictions for failing to file his tax returns, according to a Reuters news release. In 2006, the federal government indicted Snipes on multiple counts including tax fraud, conspiracy and failing to file tax returns. A copy of the indictment can be found here.
Earlier this year, after hearing the evidence in his federal criminal trial in Ocala, Florida (which is about 100 miles southwest of Jacksonville, Florida), a jury found Wesley Snipes guilty of three counts of failing to file tax returns for the years 1999 – 2001. Each of the three counts on which Snipes was convicted, one for each year, is a conviction for a federal misdemeanor crime. That jury also found Snipes not guilty of the felony counts, which were tax fraud and conspiracy counts.
The federal crimes on which Snipes was convicted each carry a maximum sentence of 12 months in prison and associated fines. As a result of the three convictions, Snipes is facing a maximum sentence of 36 months in prison. That is exactly what the federal government is requesting along with a $5 million fine for failing to pay his taxes for those three years. According to the sentencing memorandum, the tax loss from Snipes’ failure to pay taxes for three years was over $7 million and the maximum fine would be over $14 million. The sentencing memorandum also asks the judge to hold Snipes in jail pending his appeal. Some defendants, after they are convicted, are permitted to remain out of prison on bond until their appeal is heard. Snipes also may likely face a civil action from the IRS to force him to pay millions of dollars in overdue taxes.
During the trial, lawyers for Snipes argued for unorthodox interpretations of the tax code that would support his contention that he did not have to pay the taxes the government claimed he owed, that the IRS was not a legitimate agency that had authority to force Snipes to pay taxes and that Snipes was an innocent victim of bad advice from his advisers. While some of those arguments were presumably effective in beating the felony counts, that, along with Snipes’ celebrity status, also likely explains why the government is attempting to make an example out of Snipes to deter others from engaging in similar conduct and using similar justifications for failing to pay federal taxes. In fact, the prosecutors told the judge in the sentencing memorandum, “If ever a tax offender was deserving of being held accountable to the maximum extent for his criminal wrongdoing, Snipes is that defendant.”
Snipes’ federal sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 24.