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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

April 15: Prosecutors Urge Maximum Three-Year Sentence for "Inveterate Tax Scofflaw" Wesley Snipes

In a sentencing memo, prosecutors have urged the federal district court in Florida to sentence actor Wesley Snipes to the maximum three years in prison and $5 million fine for his conviction on three misdemeanor tax charges (he was acquitted of the more serious felony tax fraud charges):

The criminal tax laws are designed to protect the public interest in preserving the integrity of the nation’s tax system. Criminal tax prosecutions serve to punish the violator and promote respect for the tax laws. The sentence for the criminal tax scofflaw must be commensurate with the gravity of the offense, and should act as a deterrent to other potential violators. This case cries out for the statutory maximum term of imprisonment, as well as a substantial fine, because of the seriousness of defendant Snipes’ crimes and because of the singular opportunity this case presents to deter tax crime nationwide.

For nearly a decade, Snipes has engaged in a campaign of criminal tax conduct combining brazen defiance with insidious concealment. By these means, Snipes has escaped paying more than $15 million in income tax to the IRS, and has pursued an intended fraudulent harm to the United States Treasury of more than $41 million. But for the limits of the statutory maximum sentence, the sentencing guidelines would call for term of imprisonment of more than 10 years. The intended loss in this case ($41,038,051) is so large that it is100 times the amount ($400,000) that would place Snipes in a guidelines range calling for 36 months’ imprisonment. However, even beyond the enormous tax harm caused by Snipes, the multifarious nature of his schemes and the deterrence value of a substantial prison sentence for this truly notorious offender call for a full 36 months in prison. ...

Criminal tax prosecutions play a vital role in our nation’s tax system because our system of self-reported tax liability depends upon citizens' being assured that those who do not honestly report their income and pay their taxes will be appropriately punished. In the defendant Wesley Snipes, the Court is presented with a wealthy, famous, and inveterate tax scofflaw. If ever a tax offender was deserving of being held accountable to the maximum extent for his criminal wrongdoing, Snipes is that defendant.

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