Wesley Snipes is in the news today because he has some notion that Marvel is going to make another Blade film with the star of what looks like the worst new network TV series of the fall, The Player on NBC.
Whenever I think about Wesley Snipes, however, I always think about what Patton Oswalt had said about him in the set of Blade Trinity: How his stand-in filmed all of his scenes except for close-ups, how he tried to strangle the director David Goyer, and how Goyer got him back so good that Snipes only communicated with Goyer though Post-It notes for the rest of the shoot.
But then there’s those tax evasion charge, for which Snipes served three years in prison. Let me just say this as someone who is technically a lawyer: It’s not that easy to get three years in prison for tax evasion. Filing a false tax return is a misdemeanor; mostly, the IRS just wants their goddamn money (plus interest), and if they get it (or at least, put you on a payment plan toward eventually paying the debt), you can probably avoid any significant jail time.
But this wasn’t a typical tax evasion charge. Wesley Snipes not only failed to file his taxes for five years (from 1999-2004), refusing to pay taxes on $37 million in earned income, he actually filed fraudulent forms in an attempt to recover the $11.3 million he paid into the IRS in 1996 and 1997.
But Snipes wasn’t convicted for merely trying to dodge the IRS. He was actively claiming that the IRS had no right to tax him. Snipes was taking advice from an organization called the Guiding Light of God Ministries (though Snipes had converted from Christian to Muslim), which wasn’t so much a religious organization as it was a tax-dodging operation.
Snipes’ central argument was that he was a “nonresident alien” (despite being born in the United States), and therefore, the US government had no jurisdiction over him. He also put all of his money into something called a “pure trust,” and claimed that he no longer owned that money therefore it could not be taxed.
But it gets weirder. Not only did Snipes refuse to pay his taxes, he threatened federal employees who went after him, claiming in a letter that the IRS deceives to “terrorize, enslave, rape [and] pillage” taxpayers, further asserting that any taxes withheld were stolen from him. He also wrote that “illegal collection action” would result in “significant personal liability” for IRS agents.
“Warning - pursuit of such a high profile target will open the door for your increased collateral risk. I certainly don’t believe this is in your best interest and can be avoided.”
Was Snipes under the misconception that IRS agents were villains in an action movie that he could pick off?
Despite the threats, despite the failure to pay taxes on $37 million and the attempt to steal $11 million back from the government, it really is a testament the power of celebrity that Snipes was not convicted of any felonies. The jury convicted him of only three misdemeanors, the very same jury he attempted to avoid by having the trial moved out of Ocala, Florida, where he believed there was a large population of Ku Klux Klan members (I’ve actually been to Ocala, and while I don’t know anything about the Klan there, it is certainly a place where 90 percent of the residents would vote for Sarah Palin for President).
Truth is, he’s lucky he only got three years in prison. He was facing 16 years.
But sure, let him make another Blade movie. I’m sure Marvel would be thrilled to work with a guy who tried to strangle his director.