Wesley Snipes Conviction Based on Taxes or Color?

December 13, 2010  |  

The saying goes that there are only two things guaranteed in life and that’s death and taxes. But if you’re Wesley Snipes, or any black person with money, you might want to add jail as a third definite. Before turning himself in to begin serving his three-year sentence for misdemeanor tax charges, Snipes appeared on Larry King to once again plead his innocence and to suggest that the government targeted him because he is a celebrity.

Snipes, who allegedly failed to file returns for at least a decade and owed $2.7 million in taxes on $13.8 million in income from 1999 to 2001, had been acquitted earlier this year of felony charges of conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and presenting a fraudulent claim for payment to the IRS.

He was also acquitted on three other charges of failing to file income tax returns. However, he was convicted of the lesser crime of filing fraudulent taxes or improper filing.  Eddie Ray Kahn, Snipes’ tax planner and founder of American Rights Litigators, a known tax denier group, was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and presenting a fraudulent claim for payment to the IRS.

In the interview, Snipes said that he has paid off the $35 million dollars he owed in back taxes and that he was never trying to avoid settling taxes but because of inconsistencies from the IRS, wasn’t sure how much he really owed.
For the record, I am not a fan of Mr. Snipes. I mean Blade was cool and all but I always disliked his egotistical demeanor. Not to mention, he dodges out of paternity cases as fast as he does his taxes. However I can put aside my personal feelings to pose the question: Does Snipes’ misdemeanor deserve the sentence of three years imprisonment?

Perhaps Snipes is right that he is being targeted not only because of his celebrity status but also because of his race.  During the Larry King interview, it was revealed that one of the jurors in the case admitted that a few of the jurors decided that Snipes was guilty before they even heard his case. Frank Tuttle, a member of the jury, had sent a letter to King, which mentioned that the three jurors in question were so hell bent on convicting Snipes that the other jurors had to “make a deal” to find him guilty of some of the charges, however none of the jurors thought that he would receive any jail time.

The possibility of racial injustices were not lost on Snipes’ very own lawyers, who prior to the actor’s 2006 tax evasion trial in Ocala, Fla., commented that Snipes would not be able to get a jury of his peers as the town was a “hotbed of Klan activity.” Added to that, a recent study suggests that both Blacks and Hispanics have been disproportionately targeted by the IRS.

I wouldn’t say that Snipes, along with millions of other high and low profile folks, did not try to evade paying taxes. Hell, even a few folks, who were being considered for positions within the Obama Administration were known to fudge on the numbers from time to time. However, one does have to wonder if Snipes’ harsh sentence is about sending a message based on the wrongness of his actions or about color.

Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.

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