OCALA, Fla. — Wesley Snipes was sentenced to three years in prison on tax charges Thursday, a victory for prosecutors who sought to make an example of the action star by aggressively pursuing the maximum penalty.
Snipes’ lawyers had spent much of the day in court offering dozens of letters from family members, friends — even fellow actors Woody Harrelson and Denzel Washington — attesting to the good character of the “Blade” star and asking for leniency. They argued he should get only probation because his three convictions were all misdemeanors and the actor had no previous criminal record.
But U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges said Snipes exhibited a “history of contempt over a period of time” for U.S. tax laws, and granted prosecutors the three-year sentence they requested — one year for each of Snipes’ convictions of willfully failing to file a tax return.
“In my mind these are serious crimes, albeit misdemeanors,” Hodges said.
Snipes apologized while reading from a written statement for his “costly mistakes,” but never mentioned the word taxes.
“I am an idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance,” Snipes said.
Snipes said his wealth and celebrity attracted “wolves and jackals like flies are attracted to meat.” He called himself “well-intentioned, but miseducated.”
Snipes was the highest-profile criminal tax target in years, and prosecutors called for a heavy sentence to deter others from trying to obstruct the IRS. The government alleged Snipes made at least $13.8 million for the years in question and owed $2.7 million in back taxes.
Snipes was acquitted in February of five additional charges, including felony tax fraud and conspiracy.