Wesley Snipes somehow got embroiled in one of the wacky tax protestor dodges pushed by an anti-tax group called the American Rights Litigators. See this story by Emily Friedman, Jan. 16 on ABC News. He paid his taxes with bogus checks and then didn't even bother to file returns for quite a few years.
Now, a federal jury in Florida has acquitted Snipes of the most serious tax fraud charges, including filing a false claim for a $7 million refund for taxes paid in 1997 (back when he still actually paid his taxes). The jury did find him guilty of not filing returns. He'll have to pay the back taxes due, with considerable penalties and interest, and he faces up to three years in jail. He probably has a substantial defense attorney bill to pay as well, and he could still face civil tax fraud charges. (A civil suit would not constitute double jeopardy.)
That's not exactly the rosy result the promoters of the tax protest movement promise their followers. So one wonders why the results of the trial "drew whoops of joy outside the federal courthouse ... from fellow tax deniers who immediately proclaimed it another victory that would draw more people to their cause." David Cay Johnston, Wesley Snipes Cleared of Serious Tax Charges, New York Times, Feb. 2, 2008. (Why doesn't the headline note "Wesley Snipes Convicted of Failure to File Returns", one wonders. It would be more effective at convincing people of the folly of tax protestors, and would be quite accurate.)
Tax deniers base their movement on wacky theories that are clearly frivolous. The Times states that closing arguments portrayed Snipes "as a well-intended victim of bad advice by his co-defendants." One would think that the jury would have thought that Wesley Snipes, a sophisticated actor who certainly has had to learn a good deal about managing all his millions, was sufficiently knowledgable not to be let off as a gullible 'mark' of the tax denier movement. Especially since he used bogus checks to pay $14 million in taxes and altered the words on a tax return to indicate he was filing withint any penalty of perjury. See Id. But he must have been seen as a sympathetic victim rather than a perpetrator of the tax evasion crime. The two men who were charged with promoting the tax denial movement, however, were convicted on tax fraud and conspiracy charges. Eddie Ray Kahn and Doublas Rosile face up to 16 years.
The ABC report mentioned at the beginning of this post suggests that most of the people who become embroiled in these tax protester groups are angry.
You're not going to become a tax protestor unless you're really angry, a little bit paranoid -- you have to think someone is hiding words in the code that the rest of us don't see," said MacNab, who added that many disillusioned ex-servicemen get lured in by anti-tax groups. "They think there is secret meaning in the code and a conspiracy to hide that from the public." ABC report
Anger makes people vulnerable to the tax protestor organizers who bilk them for large fees for providing the information on the scam. It may then become almost a "cult belief." ABC report. The San Diego Union-Tribune headline for a 2005 article by David Washburn about tax deniers seems appropriate, "Deniers preach income tax avoidance." Mr. Snipes' convicted co-defendant, Mr. Kahn (who had been imprisoned two decades ago for tax crimes) ran a Christian ministry, "the Guiding Light of God Ministries," as well as the American Rights Litigator group, according to Johnston's article. Wesley Snipes Cleared of Serious Tax Charges.
We know that people can sometimes be misled by false prophets. I suppose that's what is happening to some of those who fall prey to these tax protester scams--they are angry and they want to believe so badly that they convince themselves that it must be true.