(FROM CNN) — Wesley Snipes may have been acquitted in February on felony tax fraud charges, but his conviction on three lesser counts of evasion still comes with a hefty price: The actor on Thursday (April 24) was sentenced to three years in prison and fined up to $5 million, the maximum punishment possible under federal guidelines.
Though Snipes had escaped more serious charges that he’d been part of a scheme to defraud the IRS with bogus refund claims — a jury accepted his argument that he had innocently taken bad advice by questionable advisers — prosecutors urged U.S. District Judge William Hodges in Ocala, Florida, to hand out a tough sentence for the misdemeanors, and thus demonstrate to taxpayers that no one is exempt from paying up. (The IRS says Snipes had not filed taxes at all from 1999-2004.) ”The fact that Snipes was acquitted on two felony charges and convicted ‘only’ on three misdemeanor counts has been portrayed in the mainstream media as a ‘victory’ for Snipes,” a 35-page government argument read, citing Snipes’ ”brazen defiance” of tax laws. ”The troubling implication of such coverage for the millions of average citizens who are aware of this case is that the rich and famous Wesley Snipes has ‘gotten away with it.’ In the end, the criminal conduct of Snipes must not be seen in such a light.”
In December 2007, the actor gave an exclusive interview from his New Jersey home to Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty about his legal troubles. In it, he addressed his relationship to federal authorities, and their characterization of him as not only a tax cheat but also a fugitive, after he failed to turn himself in right away (he was in Namibia, he said, shooting a movie when the indictment was unsealed). ”They positioned it like, ‘He’s irresponsible, dangerous, guilty — this is why he’s in Africa,”’ Snipes said in the interview. ”All these things, they play into our stereotypes. People think I’m Nino Brown [his gangster character from 1991’s New Jack City] or Blade. They think I’m an evil dude.” When asked how he felt about the prospect of facing time in prison, he responded, ”I don’t take this cavalierly. But I am in a spiritual place where I may not react the same way that other people may. At the same time, I have to be prepared to fight tooth and nail.”