Wesley Snipes' pre-jail defiance: 'Everybody has tax issues'
On Friday, a federal judge declined Wesley Snipes' request for a new trial and ordered the actor to surrender to authorities and begin serving his three-year prison sentence for tax evasion. The man who had a thousand lives in action movies such as "Blade" and "Rising Sun" had finally, it seemed, run out of second chances.
It was a pretty sharp turnaround from where Snipes appeared to be just last winter. When we interviewed the actor in February, we found him optimistic about his chances for another escape. At the time, Snipes was promoting a comeback role in Antoine Fuqua's blood opera "Brooklyn's Finest" -- in his first theatrical part in six years, Snipes played a drug dealer who was trying to go straight -- and he hinted at impending legal vindication. He used phrases such as "I'm hearing good things" about his appeal on the tax-evasion charges, for instance. (He had been acquitted on charges of tax fraud and conspiracy at a 2008 trial.)
Snipes was penitent about his life, using phrases such as "fresh start" and "reboot" and seeming genuinely humbled by his fall from the Hollywood A-list after a high-profile scandal that began more than three years before.
But he also was not shy about implying that his alleged crimes were being exaggerated by the authorities. "Going through the trial woke me up to the significance of what I do," he said, referring to his acting career. "[The government] said it was the largest and biggest and most important tax case. And I thought, 'Really? What am I missing here? Why would you say that, just because I make movies?'"
There was something poignant about seeing the actor, after so many big action roles, appearing so meek and outside the game as he ate breakfast at a Santa Monica hotel, talking enthusiastically about how some webisodes he was planning would restore him to Hollywood royalty.
But he didn't help his case for sympathy by suggesting his actions were no different from what many Americans do come April 15. "Everybody has tax problems. Everybody has tax issues," he told us. "Everybody's failed to file at some point in time. Everybody from the Treasury secretary on down."
He also maintained, as he had in previous interviews, that he was just an innocent along for the rid, with many of the mistakes made by his associates and co-defendants, though he did acknowledge that he should have kept a better eye on what they were doing. "I have to be angry at myself. It's not for them to be held accountable to me," he said. "How come I didn't see it. How come I didn't know?"
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Wesley Snipes leaving a Florida courthouse after being acquitted of tax fraud in February 2008. Credit: Scott Audette / Reuters
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