ALEX COHEN, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
I'm Alex Chadwick.
It's what the Internal Revenue Service calls the biggest tax cheat case in years. And that's because the defendant is movie star Wesley Snipes, and because the IRS says he paid no taxes on $58 million in income. A jury in Ocala, Florida is deliberating tax fraud and conspiracy charges against him. If convicted, the noted vampire-slayer could be jailed for 16 years.
Kevin Graham is covering the trial for the St. Petersburg Times. Kevin, tell us what happened to get us here.
Mr. KEVIN GRAHAM (St. Petersburg Times): Well, basically what happened was a meeting between Wesley Snipes and a gentleman by the name of Eddie Ray Kahn, who ran several seminars that the IRS says teaches people basically how to cheat the IRS out of money. He is a proponent of this 861 argument, which is an Internal Revenue code that some people say exempts Americans from having to pay income tax on the earnings that they make in the United States.
CHADWICK: Article 861 of the Internal Revenue Service code.
Mr. GRAHAM: Right.
CHADWICK: So he stopped paying taxes, what, about a decade ago, and finally the IRS has said, okay, we're going to put you in jail.
Mr. GRAHAM: Basically is what's happened. Wesley Snipes' attorneys says, continuously said that throughout these years he's been trying to meet with the IRS because he wasn't sure whether what he was hearing from Mr. Kahn was correct information. And he doesn't understand the Internal Revenue code laws himself. It's very confusing. One of his attorneys said in court, reading the Internal Revenue code is the quickest way to go crazy. And Wesley Snipes was not trying to break the law. He was simply an American who had questions for his government and got no response from them until they indicted him on criminal charges.
CHADWICK: His lawyers told the jury we don't have to put on a case because the government has failed to prove that Mr. Snipes acted with criminal intent. Sure, he didn't pay his taxes, but he thought he legitimately didn't have to pay his taxes. So there's no fraud here whatsoever. He just has an argument with the IRS.
Mr. GRAHAM: That's correct. And an argument with the IRS is not a crime.
CHADWICK: And how did the prosecutors respond to that?
Mr. GRAHAM: Well, the prosecutors simply said that Mr. Snipes and his two co-defendants knew exactly what they were doing. Everybody knows you have to pay your taxes. Robert O'Neill is the U.S. attorney who was the lead prosecutor in this case, and he said - and he quoted Benjamin Franklin - "Two things in this world are certain - death and taxes." Everybody knows that. Why didn't Wesley Snipes know it?
CHADWICK: Mr. Snipes' lawyers have put up no defense. They don't argue that he has failed to pay more than $10 million in taxes and there'll be maybe another 10 million on top of that in penalties. They've offered no defense whatsoever, and the jury is sitting there considering these charges.
Mr. GRAHAM: That's correct.
CHADWICK: He could go to jail for 16 years.
Mr. GRAHAM: Sixteen years is the maximum if he's convicted on the eight counts that he's charged within the federal indictments.
CHADWICK: His lawyers decided this week not to put him on the stand to testify. But what has Wesley Snipes said outside the courtroom to reporters about this?
Mr. GRAHAM: He says that he stands ready to walk away from these charges at this point.
CHADWICK: When do you expect the jury to come out?
Mr. GRAHAM: We have no idea. One of the attorneys yesterday who was just kind of hanging around with some of the reporters said that nobody expected him to return a verdict on the first full day of deliberations, which took place yesterday, that there are thousands of documents, boxes and boxes of evidence that they have to go through. And if this jury does what they should be doing, which is pouring over that evidence, then it will take them a couple of days to look through all of that and just decide who did what, as they're charged in the indictment.
CHADWICK: Kevin Graham covering the trial of Wesley Snipes for the St. Petersburg Times in Ocala, Florida.
Kevin, thank you.
Mr. GRAHAM: Thank you very much.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.