The Hollywood actor Wesley Snipes is being sought by federal investigators after he was charged with allegedly trying to defraud the US government of $12m (£6.4m) in taxes. If convicted, the film star faces up to 16 years in jail.
Federal prosecutors said yesterday that they did not know the whereabouts of Mr Snipes, 44, and that he had not been arrested because officials were unable to locate him. The actor, who starred in the Blade movie series and also heads his own independent production company, faces a total of eight charges.
"Those who promote or use fraudulent tax schemes are a threat to the financial integrity of our nation," said Michael Yasofsky, a special agent with the Inland Revenue Service (IRS).
It is alleged that Mr Snipes, who was born in Florida, claimed refunds in 1996 and 1997 on taxes already paid, and then failed to file returns from 1999 and 2004. According to the indictment, Mr Snipes had his taxes prepared by accountants with a history of filing false returns designed to collect payments for their clients.
The charges allege that Mr Snipes co-operated with two other men who were named as defendants - Eddie Ray Kahn and Douglas Rosile, both from Florida - where Mr Snipes once had a home.
Prosecutors said that Mr Kahn is the founder of American Rights Litigators (ARL) and its successor, Guiding Light of God Ministries (GLGM), both based in central Florida. Mr Rosile is an accountant who prepared tax returns for ARL members.
According to previous press reports, Mr Kahn has previously told his clients that US law does not oblige people to pay taxes, that the IRS is not a legal organisation and that taxes paid by US citizens are diverted to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The indictment alleges that the three men tried "through dishonest means, to make it appear as if Mr Snipes had no liability for federal income taxes, when, in fact, Mr Snipes had such tax liabilities. As part of the scheme, the defendants allegedly prepared and filed two amended federal income tax returns for Mr Snipes, fraudulently claiming refunds of 1996 and 1997 income taxes previously paid, totalling almost $12m."
Paul Perez, US Attorney for the Middle District of Florida, told a press conference in Tampa that Mr Rosile had surrendered himself to authorities and that Mr Khan was believed to be out of the country.
The Associated Press reported that there was no immediate word from Mr Snipes or his agent. Mr Perez said: "Our system of government depends on citizens paying their fair share of taxes.
"Those who intentionally and unlawfully harass the IRS through deceit, trickery and fraud undermine the collection of revenue that is vital to every aspect of the operation of our government, including defence, the war on terror, health care, law enforcement and education."
The indictment said the ARL claimed to be an organisation that aggressively defended the rights of American citizens while the GLGM posed as a "Christian ministry... established to assist men and women in their pursuit of truth and freedom as Americans". It added: "In reality, ARL and GLGM were for-profit, commercial enterprises that promoted and sold fraudulent tax schemes."
Mr Perez said he assumed that if Mr Snipes had not previously known the IRS wanted to speak to him, he soon would. "We've spoken to his former attorneys over the weekend. We presume that he knows, and of course after this press conference he will definitely know," he said.Reuse content