Snipes gets the max -- 3 years -- in tax case
* Story Highlights
* NEW: Federal judge throws the book at actor Wesley Snipes
* He'd been convicted on three misdemeanor tax evasion counts
* Prosecutors urged judge to make example of Snipes
* Prosecutors say Snipes failed to pay $15 million in taxes
(CNN) -- Actor Wesley Snipes was sentenced to three years in prison and fined up to $5 million Thursday for evading federal income taxes, CNN affiliate WESH is reporting.
It was the maximim sentence possible under federal sentencing guidelines.
Prosecutors last week urged U.S. District Judge William Hodges in Ocala, Florida, to sentence Snipes to the maximum penalty to demonstrate to taxpayers that refusal to pay income taxes carries severe penalties.
Snipes was convicted on three misdemeanor counts of failure to file federal income tax returns.
"This case presents the court with a singular opportunity to deter tax fraud nationwide," the government said in its sentencing recommendation. VideoWatch more on Snipes' defense »
Snipes, who has starred in movies such as "Blade," "Major League" and "Murder at 1600," had been charged with felony conspiracy counts for participating in a scheme that rejects the legal foundation of the tax system. However, a jury accepted his argument that he was innocently duped by errant tax advisers and acquitted him on the most serious charges.
"The fact that Snipes was acquitted on two felony charges and convicted 'only' on three misdemeanor counts has been portrayed in the mainstream media as a 'victory' for Snipes," the government document says.
"The troubling implication of such coverage for the millions of average citizens who are aware of this case is that the rich and famous Wesley Snipes has 'gotten away with it.' In the end the criminal conduct of Snipes must not be seen in such a light."
Assistant Attorney General Nathan Hochman, head of the Justice Department's Tax Division, last week promised to beef up the government's efforts to pursue those engaged in a variety of schemes making legal assertions that income taxes are either voluntary or unconstitutional.
"For nearly a decade Snipes has engaged in a campaign of criminal tax conduct combining brazen defiance with insidious concealment," the prosecutors say. "By these means Snipes has escaped paying more than $15 million in income tax to the IRS and has pursued an intended fraudulent harm to the United States Treasury of more than $41 million."
The document says Snipes shipped millions of dollars to accounts in Switzerland, Antigua and the Isle of Man to avoid taxes.
"Given defendant's income, earning capacity, and financial resources, both disclosed and undisclosed, the United States submits that a fine of at least $5 million is warranted," the sentencing recommendation says.
The 35-page argument for the stiffest possible penalty ends with a dramatic flair.
"In the defendant Wesley Snipes, the court is presented with a wealthy, famous and inveterate tax scofflaw. If ever a tax offender was deserving of being held accountable to the maximum extent for his criminal wrongdoing, Snipes is that defendant," it says.
The IRS is also seeking repayment of all taxes and interest through civil court proceedings.http://www.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/04/24/snipes.sentencing/index.html