LegalZoom Blog

Legal news and small business tips.

Tax Denier Denied: Wesley Snipes Going to Jail for Failing to File Tax Returns

no comments yet

Tax by Alan Cleaver on Flickr

Tax by Alan Cleaver on Flickr

The decades’ long battle between action star Wesley Snipes and the IRS reached an abrupt conclusion last week when a 3-judge federal appeals court panel upheld Snipes’ three-year prison sentence for failing to file tax returns between 1999 and 2001.

In 2008, Snipes was convicted of three misdemeanors in Florida, but was cleared on felony charges; Snipes claimed he was following the advice of tax professionals, while prosecutors argued Snipes had made more than $38 million without paying any taxes or even filing tax returns.

Snipes was then sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, which he appealed, arguing that probation should have been considered and that he should have been allowed to petition for a change of venue to New York.

One of Snipes’ main arguments against paying taxes was based on what is commonly known as the “861 argument” in the tax denier movement, often credited to Larken Rose. Tax deniers claim that wages are not listed as taxable, and therefore, aren’t taxable by the federal government.

United States courts have yet to accept this argument, however, noting that “compensation for services” is included in Section 861 as taxable — and according to The New York Times, all eight people before Snipes who have used the 861 argument have been sentenced to prison.

Indeed, no tax protester has ever successfully challenged the government’s right to collect federal income taxes, according to attorney Jay Adkisson, founder of Quatloos!, a “Cyber Museum of Scams & Frauds,” as quoted in an article on

The IRS itself has gone so far as to publish “The Truth About Frivolous Tax Arguments,” briefly describing common tax denier claims and then refuting them with legal authority. To be perfectly clear regarding its stance on the issue, the final section of the document describes the potential penalties for pursuing frivolous tax arguments — and as you can see from the Snipes case, they can be quite severe.

As of this writing, there is no information on when or where Snipes will be serving his prison sentence.

ShareShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInEmail this to someone

Sign up for the LegalZoom newsletter!

Written by

July 22nd, 2010 at 9:49 am