Wesley Snipes and
Robert Bernhoft (AP)
“Most Prominent Tax Prosecution In Two Decades”
In what the NY Times called “the most prominent tax prosecution since Leona Helmsly,” actor Wesley Snipes was acquitted of the most serious charges against him.
The star of “The Blade” trilogy was found not guilty on two felony charges of conspiracy and fraud for filing a false claim for a $7 million refund, as well as on three misdemeanor charges. He was convicted on three lesser charges of failing to file tax returns.
Had Snipes been convicted of the felony counts, he faced 16 years in prison.
Attorney Robert Bernhoft’s successful defense portrayed Snipes as a well-intended victim of bad advice who was simply questioning the IRS about his tax obligation. During Bernhoft’s closing arguments, newspaper reports said courtroom spectators were in tears.
“We talked about how the Liberty Bell might have been cracked in Philadelphia, but could still be heard in Ocala (where the trial was held),” Bernhoft said. “Some people still care about those old-fashioned rights — like being able to ask your government questions without being rewarded with a federal criminal indictment.”
Bernhoft’s defense surprised many observers, who had expected Snipes to present himself simply as an income tax protestor. “Mr. Snipes defense was handled quite well,” wrote Russ Fox, a tax blogger with Clayton Financial and Tax of Irvine, California.
The felony acquittal was the second headline-making case Bernhoft Law successfully handled for Snipes. Several years earlier, Bernhoft represented him in a criminal paternity suit that was dismissed.