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Actor Wesley Snipes Sentenced to 3 Years' Jail in Tax Case

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US movie star Wesley Snipes has been sentenced to three years in prison for willfully failing to file US income tax returns.

Snipes, who starred in the “Blade” movie trilogy, was convicted in February on three misdemeanor counts for failing to file tax returns for 1999 through 2001. A US District Judge yesterday gave Snipes the maximum sentence for the conviction, saying he felt it was important to create a general deterrent against tax defiance.

Prosecutors said Snipes earned more than $US38 million since 1999 but prior to Thursday had not paid taxes or filed any tax returns for the years 1999 through 2007. They said the notoriety of the case presented a "singular opportunity" to deter tax crimes nationwide. The amount of taxes owed by Snipes is in dispute. Federal prosecutors said the actor had avoided paying more than $15 million in income tax returns for nearly a decade, while Snipes' lawyer Linda Moreno said he owed less than $400,000 in taxes for the three years related to the convictions. "I am very sorry for my mistakes and errors," Snipes told the judge. "This will never happen again."

The actor said he would appeal the verdict but prosecutors said they would oppose any request to allow him to remain free on bond while the appeal is pending. Snipes was acquitted on two felony charges of filing false claims and fraud in seeking millions of dollars of refunds in other tax years. Moreno told the court Snipes had led “an otherwise exemplary life” and brought character references from actors Denzel Washington and Woody Harrelson. Moreno said Snipes had hired reputable tax professionals to help him resolve his tax liability.

Moreno cited the cases of former Washington mayor Marion Barry and singer/actor Marc Anthony, who both avoided prison after failing to file tax returns, and singer Willie Nelson, who was not imprisoned despite owing $US17 million in back taxes. In a civil suit, the IRS is seeking repayment of all taxes and interest from Snipes.