Wesley Snipes, the Hollywood action star embroiled in legal trouble over his tax returns, was given a three-year sentence in a federal court in Florida yesterday – the maximum possible – after a jury found that he wilfully failed to file any taxes for three years from 1999 to 2001.
The 45-year-old star of films including Blade and Demolition Man received no quarter from the trial judge despite dozens of letters attesting to his good character from family members, friends and fellow actors, including Woody Harrelson and Denzel Washington.
The three-year sentence is significantly lower than the 16 years he might have faced if the jury had agreed with the prosecution and found he paid no income tax over a six-year period and was guilty of tax fraud and conspiracy as well as the failure to pay.
The court appeared to take a dim view of Mr Snipes' correspondence with the Internal Revenue Service, in which he variously tried to argue that the IRS was not a properly established government agency, that he was a " stateless person" or "nonresident alien" and thus had no obligation to pay US taxes.
In a document filed for sentencing, the prosecution characterised this correspondence as "frivolous" and an excuse to send cheques received at his business office to an offshore bank without declaring them as taxable income. The document said the "amount of unreported gross income proved at trial" amounted to more than $13m (£6.5m) during the three years.
Two of Mr Snipes' associates were also due to be sentenced by the court in Ocala – both on more serious fraud and conspiracy charges. Eddie Ray Kahn was facing up to 10 years, while Douglas P Rosile risked as much as six.