Fallible FICO
Mother of all tax reforms

Snipes faces the tax price of celebrity

The last we heard from actor Wesley Snipes, he was corresponding with an Orlando reporter about tax evasion charges filed against the actor.

Wesley_snipes_blade_trinity_2 In that e-mail exchange, Snipes, best known for his vampire hunter Blade movie series, complained that he was being "scapegoated" by the U.S. government "because there's more public interest in 'celebrities gone bad' than 'rich people being taken advantage of.'"

In case you forgot, Uncle Sam alleges that Snipes owes $12 million in back taxes. That sum is due to, according to the indictment, conspiracy to defraud the government, making false refund claims and failing to file returns. If convicted of all the federal charges, Snipes could serve up to 16 years in prison.

The actor's lawyers probably weren't happy that he took his arguments public, at least without them signing off on his words. Instead, his attorneys made their case to the court. 

In a motion to dismiss, detailed at The Smoking Gun, Snipes' counsel agreed with their client that he is the victim of selective prosecution. But they specified that it was because of his race, since Snipes' two white co-defendants were not charged with failure to file tax returns as he was.

Well, it seems that Snipes should have kept his mouth shut.

Last week, the judge for the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, Ocala Division, denied the dismissal motion. In do so, the jurist essentially echoed the actor's earlier complaint of how celebrities get picked on just because they're famous:

From a prosecutor's point of view, especially in tax cases, the primary objective in deciding whom to prosecute is to achieve general deterrence. Here, Defendant Snipes is admittedly a well known movie star, and a person of apparent wealth, whose prosecution has already attracted considerable publicity. By contrast, the Defendant Eddie Ray Kahn does not appear to share Defendant Snipe's notoriety.

"Since the government lacks the means to investigate and prosecute every suspected violation of the tax laws, it makes good sense to prosecute those who will receive, or are likely to receive, the attention of the media." [emphasis mine] United States v. Catlett, 584 F. 2d 864, 868 (8th Cir. 1978) (internal citations omitted); see also United States v. Hastings, 126 F.3d 310, 314 (4th Cir 1997) (no selective prosecution in case against prominent businessman and Republican party leader charged with failure to file income tax returns).

So maybe being an average Joe or Jane isn't so bad after all.

Thanks to the well-above-average Joe Kristan at Roth & Company, P.C., for tipping us to this decision, along with providing a link to the court's official ruling, just in case you want to read all 22 pages.


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