With news still sinking in about Lauryn Hill’s impending 3 month jail sentence for tax evasion, the question that everyone started asking was, “Who else has been in trouble with the IRS and had to serve time?” While that question on its face was enough to ponder, an even deeper question started to be asked; “How many caucasian celebrities have we heard of going to jail for this crime recently?”
According to CFO Daily News, the following entertainers or people of note have been in some type of trouble with the US Government for tax evasion:
“Joe The Plumber”
Duane “Dog” Champman
Joe “Girls Gone Wild” Francis
To this list, we add; Beanie Sigel, Ja Rule and now Lauryn Hill.
Of the celebrities listed only a few actually went to jail for those tax-related crimes: Richard Pryor, Richard Hatch, Chuck Berry, Ronald Isley, Beanie Sigel, Ja Rule, Wesley Snipes, Sophia Loren and now, Lauryn Hill.
Now to be fair, it’s been reasoned that sometimes when you don’t take the plea deal the Government offers you, it can be to your detriment. However, it’s interesting to see that even in situations where the crimes are almost duplicate between offenders, one can get a slap on the wrist while the other can do hard time.
Take, for instance, the cases of Wesley Snipes and Stephen Baldwin. While they had pretty much the same crimes across the board, Baldwin admitted failing to pay New York State income taxes for 2008, 2009 and 2010. Stephen Baldwin subsequently received a plea bargain that resulted in no jail time and his record could be wiped clean if he paid back the $400,000 he owed within a year. Baldwin made a $100,000 down payment upon his arraignment and if he didn’t pay all the money within a year, the plea bargain provided for five years of probation and repayment within that time.
Whereas, Wesley Snipes did not take a plea deal, he instead chose to go to trial where he was convicted on misdemeanor crimes. Snipes was found guilty on three counts of failing to file a federal income tax return and owing the IRS $17 million in back taxes plus penalties and interest. He too tried to give the feds a good faith down payment, however it didn’t prevent him from doing time. As a result, Snipes was sentenced to three years in jail and served the time.
Says Forbes Magazine;
“You can be prosecuted for failure to file a tax return (a misdemeanor) or filing falsely (a felony). The latter is more serious and the penalties are more frightening. Mr. Snipes was tried on felony and misdemeanor tax charges, but only was convicted of misdemeanors.”
Interesting how the two are convicted of almost the same thing, but one gets to have his record expunged, goes home to his family at night and in the event he can not pay the amount owed in one year, will somehow receive an additional five years to pay back the money, with the addition of probation. And the other party gets locked up like he’s Nino Brown in real life form. Sort of ridiculous when you think about it. We only wish we had someone named Miss Hawkins to speak to on the matter. (If you got the reference give yourself a high five!)
So are African American celebrities being unfairly targeted, prosecuted and given stiffer sentences than their white counterparts? Or could the difference be between those who chose to take plea deals versus going to court?
Is it maybe the quality of counsel people are receiving from attorneys or could it possibly be a cultural attitude that lends toward fighting the system instead of giving in to it that keeps Black artists from taking the pleas that could keep them out of jail?
We’re not sure what the answers are, but we are sure that we will be paying close attention to this the next time we hear that someone is in trouble with the IRS.