Cover Guy | Wesley Snipes

30 03 2010

Wesley Snipes has gone from Hollywood’s Penthouse to the outhouse during the course of his 25-year career. In a fascinating article in the April GQ magazine, the former “New Jack City” star talks about going from Nino Brown to a state of “Career, Interrupted!” The star faces three years in jail, and Chris Heath tries to make sense of it all.

For Wesley Snipes, being on trial felt a little surreal. He kept having these flashes that he’d been here before.

And in a way, he had. He wondered whether this was his brain’s way of protecting him, of reminding him how those previous trials had worked out. Not with guilty. Not even with not guilty. But with someone shouting, “Cut!” Somebody saying, “That’s a wrap.”

Not this time. And despite the flashes, he knew how real this was. It was January 2008. Ocala, Florida. Over a twelve-day trial, the prosecution’s case, which sounded rather persuasive as it played out day by day in the newspapers, was that Snipes was a long-term tax protester who had refused to pay taxes for many years, conspired in many extraordinary ways to undermine the taxation system, and owed tens of millions to the U.S. government. His defense claimed that he had done nothing but pose questions to the tax authorities (and was always prepared to pay the appropriate taxes once these had been answered) and that he’d been the victim of unscrupulous advisers. Memorably, one of his attorneys explained, “Kooky, crazy, and loony is not a crime.” In a high-risk tactic, the defense called no witnesses and presented no testimony.

Still, Snipes felt strangely optimistic. Some people close to him had had dreams that pointed toward a favorable outcome. And indeed, the verdict was widely interpreted as a vindication. Wesley Snipes cleared of serious tax charges blared the headline in The New York Times. He had been acquitted of the main charges he faced, including two felonies—acquitted of everything but three misdemeanors for willfully failing to file tax returns in three particular years. He remembers the celebration around him in the courtroom as the verdict was announced:

“All of the lawyers are shaking hands underneath the table,” he recalls. “Some of them are wiping their brows. Some of them had tears in their eyes. ‘We won! We won! We did it!’ I’m thinking, ‘I think he just said there’s three misdemeanors. Didn’t he say that? What does that mean?'”

What these three misdemeanors actually meant for him would be made clear at the sentencing hearing nearly three months later. The maximum penalty for the misdemeanor of willfully failing to file a tax return is a year in jail. He says he was told that he could expect probation or community service. Instead he got the maximum for each count, to be served consecutively.

And that is how Wesley Snipes was sentenced to three years in jail.


The Wesley Snipes I meet, a man who is out on bail while his appeal is being considered, is waiting for me at a table at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. For a while, neither of us mentions his predicament. As I take a seat, I ask him how he is, and that sends us off on one of the unexpected conversational trajectories that I will come to expect when I speak with him. “Pretty well,” he says. “Not bad at all. Healthy. Alive. The spirit is well. Everything is still working, as far as I know. I haven’t had to call in to any of the shows for those late-night male-enhancement pills.” He explains that he sees a lot of those commercials because he is a night person. After the house has quieted down—he lives with his second wife, a Korean artist named Nikki Park, and their four young children—he likes to “read, study, train, stretch, meditate.” He mentions that he’s currently reading the popular science book by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Death by Black Hole. “I like science fiction and physics, things like that,” he says. “Planets being sucked into black holes, and the various vortexes that create possibility, and what happens on the other side of the black hole. To me it’s the microcosmic study of the macrocosmic universe in man, and that’s why I’m attracted to it. Planets move like atoms; the waves of electromagnetic energy flow like the waves in rivers…”

He orders a Waldorf salad. When it arrives, he eats a little of it and then asks for a regular green salad instead. He shows me some sketches for a science fiction character he wants to turn into a movie and graphic novel, as well as a proposal for a movie called Master Daddy (“kind of Kung Fu Hustle meets Meet the Parents”). It’s all part of a comeback that began last month with his role in “Brooklyn’s Finest,” the most complicated role he has played for years in the best film he has been in for years. (“We have a great leading man out here,” its director, Antoine Fuqua, will tell me, “and he’s not being utilized.”)

Snipes doesn’t bring up his recent woes but is not resistant to discussing them. Though on his lawyers’ advice he declined to testify at his trial, not once does he refuse to answer a question or hide behind any version of “I’m not allowed to talk about that.” He has been allowed to stay free while his appeal is considered, but if it fails, he will go inside. He affects a philosophical attitude.

1. Snipes’s primary residence seems to be in New Jersey, though he is reluctant to confirm this to me. This reluctance could relate to one area of ongoing legal dispute, over whether he was resident in Florida when any tax-related offenses may have occurred. (Snipes used to own the house next to Tiger Woods’s—the one on the other side of the fire hydrant.) However, I can tell you that wherever home is, it has as few ninety-degree angles as possible. “I’m not a fan of them,” he explains. “I just gravitate towards circles and triangles because of the energy flow. Positive ions cluster in the corners of your house.”

2. The two primary arguments put forward by Snipes’s latest attorneys in Atlanta last November were that his sentence was unduly harsh and unfairly predicated upon deterrence (because of his fame) and that he had been wrongly denied a hearing to determine whether the trial should have taken place in New York rather than in Florida. Of the former, Snipes says this: “Does it mean that being successful and aspiring to be one of the best, or the best, at what you do—like Mama said—will actually, down the road, work against you? Your success being used against you? That was a pretty amazing thing.”

To read more of the Heath’s feature on Snipes, click here.



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