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The Hollywood star Wesley Snipes was arrested today on charges of defrauding the US Government out of $12 million (£6.45 million) in taxes.
The 44-year-old actor, best known for action roles such as the heroic half-human, half-vampire he plays in the Blade trilogy, handed himself in to police at Orlando International Airport, after landing in a private jet from Namibia.
An arrest warrant was issued two months ago for the star of Jungle Fever and White Men Can’t Jump on tax fraud charges that could bring him a sentence of up to 16 years, if convicted.
He had been in South Africa since August filming an historical epic with Angela Bassett and Don Cheadle based on the life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, who led the late-18th century slave rebellion that triggered the Haitian Revolution.
Snipes, who has a home near Orlando, broke into Hollywood in the 1986 film Wildcats, which starred Goldie Hawn, and has since made dozens of films, including Mo’ Better Blues, Waiting to Exhale and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar.
He was charged along with two other men from Florida — Eddie Ray Kahn and Douglas Rosile — in a scheme to cheat on income taxes.
The indictment alleged that Snipes failed to file income tax returns from 1999 to 2004 and conspired with Mr Kahn and Mr Rosile to file two amended returns for himself for 1996 and 1997, fraudulently claiming tax refunds of almost $12 million.
Mr Kahn is described as the founder of American Rights Litigators and its successor, Guiding Light of God Ministries, both based in Florida. Mr Rosile was an accountant who prepared tax returns for members of the Litigators.
The indictment said that American Rights Litigators claimed to be an organisation which used aggressive accountants to protect Americans’ rights.
Its successor “held itself out as a Christian ministry … established to assist men and women in their pursuit of truth and freedom as Americans”.
Snipes will appear at a court in Ocala tomorrow, said Steve Cole, spokesman for the US attorney’s office in Tampa.
Snipes earlier said he would abide by the law. In an e-mail to the Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell, he complained he was being targeted unfairly by federal prosecutors, at least partly because he is black and famous.
“It appears I’m to be the scapegoat, because there’s more public interest in ‘celebrities gone bad’ than ‘rich people being taken advantage of,’” Snipes wrote in the e-mail.
“Being a black male who asks questions doesn’t help the situation either. But this is a serious issue…. I will abide by the law.” He added that he was not a fugitive.
(Posted on December 8, 2006)