Wesley Snipes Loses Appeal in IRS Case

Unclear when actor will have to report to prison for three-year sentence

NBC Bay Area

Wesley Snipes is set to begin serving a three-year prison sentence for each year he refused to pay the taxman.

A federal appeals court in Florida Friday upheld the "Blade" star's sentence, who was convicted two years ago of failing to file income tax returns for three years.

The opinion by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is the latest blow to the action movie icon, whose lawyers argued the three-year sentence was "unreasonable" and that he should have been granted a hearing to decide whether his trial should have been held in New York instead of Florida.

But the three-judge panel concluded in a 35-page ruling that the Florida federal court that sentenced Snipes "acted well within its considerable discretion."

The actor has been free on bail while he appealed the convictions for willfully failing to file his federal income taxes from 1999 to 2001. Snipes' lawyer declined to comment. It's unclear when the actor will have to report to prison.

Snipes was sentenced in April 2008 in what was considered a key victory for prosecutors who aggressively pursued the maximum penalty to deter others from trying to obstruct the IRS. They say he made at least $13.8 million for the years in question and owed $2.7 million in back taxes that he refused to pay.

Snipes has apologized, saying that he was an idealistic artist who was "unschooled in the science of law and finance." But, according to court documents, Snipes didn't simply silently refuse to pay the taxes.

He sent "treatises describing theories about why the IRS was powerless to collect income taxes from him and several altered tax forms demanding money for taxes he had rendered in earlier years," according to the ruling. He also invited employees of his film production company to tax resistance seminars at his home, it said.

When he did consult his longtime tax attorneys about his decision not to pay federal income taxes, they told him that he was required to file the returns and ultimately terminated him as a client, the ruling said.

His attorneys urged the three-judge panel during oral arguments in November to toss the convictions because they said the case should have been tried in New York. But the court's ruling found "there was no abuse of discretion" in holding the trial in Florida, where prosecutors said Snipes split his time.

Snipes' attorneys in June also unsuccessfully urged the court to allow them a new appeal after a key government witness in Snipes' trial was charged in May with securities fraud worth $59 million. His lawyers said the arrest of Kenneth Starr, a one-time adviser to Snipes and other celebrities, undermined his credibility.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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