Actor Wesley Snipes was sentenced Thursday for three years misdemeanor counts of failing to file tax returns--the maximum requested by federal prosecutors.
Before the sentencing, the actor--star of the "Blade" trilogy, "Major League" and "Murder at 1600" had received the support of many Hollywood friends, including actors Denzel Washington and Woody Harrelson. Television judges Joe Brown and Greg Mathis also submitted letters to the judge on Snipes' behalf.
Snipes was convicted of the misdemeanor charges February 1, but was acquitted of more serious felony charges of tax fraud and conspiracy. Snipes argued that he was innocently duped by errant tax advisers.
For nearly a decade, federal prosecutors said the actor avoided paying more than $15 million in income tax returns by sending money to overseas accounts.
Before the sentencing, Snipes asked the court to show mercy and offered three checks totaling $5 million as a gesture of good will.
In a civil suit, the Internal Revenue Service is seeking repayment of all taxes and interest from the actor.
The actor gave a loud "wow" to the crowd after the verdict was read as he exited the courtroom.
Assistant Attorney General Nathan J. Hochman said that "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."
"It's essentially a down payment, but a fraction of what he owes," said Assistant U. S. Attorney Scotland Morris.