Wesley Snipes Sentenced To Three Years For Tax Evasion

A US federal judge has sentenced Hollywood actor Wesley Snipes to three years in prison for failing to file tax returns from 1999 to 2004.

Judge William Terrell Hodges laid down the harshest possible sentence Thursday against Snipes, 45, after the star of "Demolition Man" and the "Blade" vampire movie trilogy was found guilty in February on three misdemeanor counts.

According to US Attorney Scotland Morris, who argued the government's case, Snipes currently owes more than 20 million dollars in back taxes and penalties.

The actor made a five-million dollar payment to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on Thursday, but Morris dismissed it as "a fraction of what he owes."

"Snipes' long prison sentence should send a loud and crystal clear message to all tax defiers that if they engage in similar tax defier conduct, they face joining him and his co-defendants ... as inmates in prison," said Nathan Hochman, an official at the US Department of Justice Tax Division.

"The law is very clear: people must pay their taxes," added IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman. "There is no secret formula that eliminates a person's tax obligations, nor are there any special exceptions."

Attorneys for Snipes, a veteran of some 50 movies and father of five, vowed to appeal.

"We were hoping for a complete acquittal," Snipes attorney Linda Moreno told reporters. "I have faith in the process, and I have faith in the jury system. We will appeal."

Another defense attorney, Carmen Hernandez, said: "Mr Snipes was sentenced because he's Mr. Snipes."

Hodges denied that Snipes' celebrity was in any way linked to the unusually stiff sentence.

The judge said he would consider a request from the actor's attorneys to allow Snipes to be sent to a prison close to his home in the northeastern state of New Jersey.

Snipes first rose to fame in the 1980s when he was cast in the video for Michael Jackson's single "Bad."

That proved to be the springboard for a successful acting career characterized by his portrayal of tough-guy characters in movies such as "Demolition Man" and "New Jack City."

A martial arts fanatic, Snipes is famous for inserting quotations from Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" into his characters' roles.

Snipes also starred in "White Men Can't Jump," and Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever."

During the day-long hearing Snipes made a statement in court, his first since the trial began in January.

Without mentioning the word "taxes," Snipes said his fame and money had attracted "jackals and wolves like flies are attracted to meat."

"Newly acquired wealth does not endow one with immediate wisdom, nor does it make one immune to a good hustle," he said. "I am an idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance."

High-wattage Hollywood friends of the actor including Denzel Washington and Woody Harrelson submitted letters to the judge pleading for leniency, to no avail.

Snipes displayed no emotion when the sentence was read.

Also sentenced in the case were two co-defendants, Eddie Ray Kahn, 64, and Douglas Rosile, 59, both Florida residents found guilty of conspiring to defraud the IRS.