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Wesley Snipes Gets 3 Years For Tax Charges

OCLALA, Fla. (CN) - A federal judge in Florida cut Wesley Snipes no slack, sentencing the "Blade" actor to a maximum three years in prison for failing to file tax returns.

"These are serious crimes, albeit misdemeanors, because (Snipes) has a history of contempt over time," U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges wrote, granting prosecutors' request for the maximum prison sentence.

Hodges said probation was not a severe enough punishment for Snipes' willful tax violations. The actor was convicted of three misdemeanors for failing to pay an estimated $15.6 million in income taxes over six years. That amount jumps to more than $41 million, prosecutors argued, when taking into account his false refund claims and fraudulent bills of exchange.

Prosecutors claimed that Snipes, with the help of two tax-fraud mill operators, "brazenly waged a campaign against the IRS using a panoply of schemes," such as hiding money in offshore accounts and threatening government employees. They urged the judge to "send a message that Snipes did not 'beat the rap.'"

Snipes' lawyers argued that Snipes "is not a dangerous man" and is "deeply sorry for his wrongful conduct." They submitted dozens of letters sent by family, friends and colleagues - including a letter from Oscar-winner Denzel Washington - attesting to Snipes' upstanding character. "Unlike many celebrities, Wesley Snipes has led his life out of the limelight, helping and mentoring others and making a difference in their lives quietly and without much fanfare," his attorneys claimed.

The federal judge found prosecutors' case more convincing. Snipes' attorneys say they plan to appeal.

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