OCALA, Florida (Reuters) - Rather than file tax returns on an estimated $38 million in income, actor Wesley Snipes flooded the U.S. tax agency with correspondence that his lawyer admitted on Tuesday was sometimes “kooky, crazy and loony.”
“Kooky, crazy and loony is not a crime,” the lawyer, Robert Barnes, said in closing arguments at Snipes’ trial on tax fraud charges. “This is a case that should have been in civil court.”
Prosecutors argued the star of the “Blade” movie series hooked up with known tax protesters and then ignored warnings from Internal Revenue Service agents and his longtime tax adviser that he must file returns and pay taxes.
“He knew it was required. He just didn’t want to do it,” prosecutor Scot Morris told the jury.
Jurors are expected to begin deliberations on Wednesday on charges that Snipes conspired with IRS foe Eddie Kahn and accountant Douglas Rosile to defraud the government.
Snipes faces up to 16 years in prison if convicted of all charges — six counts of failing to file tax returns, two of fraudulently claiming tax refunds and one of conspiracy to defraud the government.
Prosecutor Robert O’Neill told Reuters outside the court Snipes “paid no taxes” on what the government said was $38 million in income from the 1999 through 2004, a period when Snipes signed contracts on two “Blade” movies worth at least $10 million each.
Snipes’ lawyers have said some taxes were withheld from his pay.
Barnes told the jury that if Snipes is acquitted he still can face civil prosecution, adding “He’ll probably spend the next 20 years working for the IRS. They can collect all the penalties and interest they want.”
The issue for the jury, according to the thrust of arguments from both sides, is whether Snipes cranked out letters to the IRS in an innocent attempt to engage the agency’s procedures, or whether he was gaming the system to criminally avoid paying taxes and get refunds of millions of dollars he paid in previous years.
Among the proofs Morris cited to indicate Snipes knew he was wrong were letters from the IRS dismissing his correspondence as frivolous, and his response to warnings from his longtime tax adviser Ken Starr that he was required to file.
“He was warned explicitly by Ken Starr,” Morris said. “Then he decides, nah, I don’t like that advice.”
Barnes showed the jury a flow chart of IRS procedures for disputing taxes and said Snipes was following those procedures in requesting audits, investigations and meetings.
“Disagreement is not deception. Frivolous is not fraud,” Barnes said.
After the prosecution concluded its case, which included cartons of IRS records, Snipes and Rosile declined to put up a defense. Kahn is boycotting the trial, contending the court has no jurisdiction over him.