Few things are certain in this life, but owing taxes is something you can count on. And while celebrities often lead privileged lives due to their wealth and status, the IRS doesn’t roll out the red carpet for the elite. Celebrities — or anyone who earns more than $500,000 per year — are in one of the two groups of taxpayers that are more likely to be audited by the IRS, according to IRS data reported by the U.S. News.
Unfortunately, some celebrities have learned the hard way that they’re not above the law. Whether they deliberately falsified a tax return or inadvertently chose an inept tax advisor, Uncle Sam always finds out. These are just a few celebrities who were caught committing tax fraud.
Last updated: Jan. 13, 2021
In 2008, Wesley Snipes was convicted on three misdemeanor counts of failing to file tax returns from 1999 to 2001. During this time, he kept $7 million in taxes from the federal government, reported the New York Daily News.
The “Blade” actor was sentenced to three years in a Pennsylvania federal prison. He began serving in December 2010, before being released to house arrest in April 2013, which Reuters reported was scheduled to end July 19, 2013.
But Snipes’ tax woes didn’t end there. In November of 2018, Snipes was ordered by the Internal Revenue Service to pay $9.5 million in back taxes, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino
“Jersey Shore” star Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino pled guilty to tax evasion in January 2018, reported TMZ. The reality star was accused of failing to pay taxes in full on nearly $9 million in earnings from 2010 to 2012. He was sentenced to eight months in prison, and he began serving his term in January 2019 and was released on Sept. 12, 2019.
In March 2013, actor Stephen Baldwin pled guilty to not paying New York state income taxes for 2008, 2009 and 2010, totaling $400,000, reported the Los Angeles Times.
Baldwin told reporters his tax avoidance was not deliberate, but that he had received bad advice from lawyers and accountants. He dodged jail time and paid the debt off within one year, which allowed him to avoid probation, according to CBS News.
In March 2011, rapper Ja Rule — whose real name is Jeffrey Atkins — pled guilty to failing to file tax returns on more than $3 million in income, reported The Washington Post. He was sentenced to 28 months in prison and agreed to pay $1.1 million in back taxes, according to the Los Angeles Times. He scored an early release from prison in May 2013, and the BBC reported he would remain on home confinement until July 28, 2013.
In December 1994, Darryl Strawberry and his agent were indicted on federal tax evasion charges, alleging the troubled baseball star failed to report more than $500,000 in earned income from 1986 to 1990, reported USA Today. In February 1995, Strawberry pled guilty and was sentenced to three months in prison and three months of house arrest, according to The New York Times.
In 2012, rapper Fat Joe — aka Joseph Cartagena — pled guilty to two counts of failing to file taxes with the IRS on more than $3 million in income, reported Reuters. Before his sentencing, he paid $718,000 in back taxes, according to the site.
He was sentenced to four months in prison, a $15,000 fine and one year of supervised release, reported TMZ. BET revealed he scored an early release on Thanksgiving Day in 2013.
“Girls Gone Wild” founder Joe Francis pled guilty to two misdemeanor counts of filing false tax returns in September 2009, where he withheld $500,000 in interest income and bribed jail workers, reported the Los Angeles Times. He was ordered to pay nearly $250,000 in restitution to the IRS and was sentenced to 301 days already served and one year of probation, according to the publication.
In 2013, Lauryn Hill was sentenced to a three-month prison sentence after failing to pay around $1.8 million in taxes from 2005 to 2007, reported the BBC.
And in 2016, it was reported by various sources that Hill was facing tax troubles again. The singer clarified on Twitter that she was not dealing with any new tax issues, but was still working to resolve her previous tax debts.
Teresa and Joe Giudice
In July 2013, Teresa and Joe Giudice were indicted on 39 counts of fraud and tax charges, including a charge aimed at Joe for failing to file tax returns from 2004 to 2008, reported Us Weekly. “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” stars were charged with an additional two counts in November 2013, according to the publication.
Teresa pled guilty to four counts and Joe pled guilty to five counts — including not filing his income taxes, according to the New York Daily News. In October 2014, Teresa was sentenced to 15 months in prison, Joe to 41 months in prison and the couple was ordered to pay $414,588 in restitution, reported Us Weekly.
After serving 11 months of her sentence, Teresa was released from prison in December 2015, according to Us Weekly. Joe began serving his prison sentence in March 2016.
In October 2018, a judge ruled that Joe would be deported to Italy after completing his prison term. After completing his prison term in March 2019, Guidice was held by immigration until he left for Italy in October 2019. He is currently living in Italy while waiting for a ruling in his deportation case, reported Fox News in September.
In 1997, former “Hollywood Madam” Heidi Fleiss was sentenced to 37 months in prison for tax evasion and money laundering, reported the Los Angeles Times. After serving 20 months in prison, she was released to a halfway house to complete her term, according to CNN.
In 1982, Sophia Loren served 17 days of a 30-day jail sentence for tax evasion, reported Forbes. The iconic Italian actress claimed the alleged error on her 1974 tax return was just an oversight by her deceased tax preparer.
It seems she was actually compliant all along because in October 2013, the Rome-based Court of Cassation ruled the calculations on her 1974 income were indeed correct and she was vindicated, according to the publication.
In 1979, Chuck Berry was found guilty of tax evasion, and served a sentence that included 120 days in federal prison, four years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service, Heavy reported.
Known for hits like “Johnny B. Goode,” “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Run Rudolph Run,” Berry died in 2017. He was 90 years old.
After a jury found him guilty of tax evasion and filing a false tax return for failing to report over $1 million in earnings from 2000 and 2001 to the IRS, “Survivor” winner Richard Hatch was sentenced to 51 months in prison in May 2006, according to the Department of Justice. He was released from jail in October 2009 and transitioned to supervised release, reported CBS News.
Hatch was ordered back to jail in 2011 because he was supposed to refile and pay his 2000 and 2001 taxes, but he failed to do this, reported the New York Daily News. He was released from jail in December 2011, after serving an additional nine months, according to Entertainment Weekly.
Disgraced baseball legend Pete Rose was convicted of tax evasion in 1990, reported the Los Angeles Times. He was sentenced to five months in jail and fined $50,000, after failing to report more than $354,000 in income from sales of baseball memorabilia, appearances to sign autographs and gambling.
After serving his time, Rose was ordered to spend three months in a halfway house and perform 1,000 hours of community service, according to the publication.
Dolce and Gabbana
Their conviction was overturned in October 2014, but before that, designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana were entangled in a tax nightmare, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In June 2013, the duo was convicted of failing to file tax returns for their company in Italy. Prosecutors claimed they owed taxes for the 2004 sale of the company’s main brands to Luxembourg-based Gado, according to the business-focused newspaper.
H. Ty Warner
Beanie Babies creator H. Ty Warner pled guilty to one count of tax evasion in October 2013, reported Forbes. From 1996 to 2007, Warner failed to report at least $24.4 million in interest income from a Swiss bank account to the IRS, which allowed him to evade at least $5.6 million in taxes, according to the publication. He also didn’t file required annual “FBAR” reports on his foreign accounts with the U.S. Treasury.
As part of a plea deal, Warner agreed to pay $16 million in back taxes and interest and a $53.5 million penalty. He managed to avoid jail time — despite U.S. Sentencing Guidelines which called for 46 to 57 months — and was instead sentenced to two years of probation and 500 hours of community service.
Hotel magnate Leona Helmsley was convicted in 1992 of evading $1.7 million in taxes, reported the Los Angeles Times. She was sentenced to four years in prison and 750 hours of community service.
She only served 21 months, but after learning she had employees perform some of her community service, the judge gave the “Queen of Mean” an additional 150 hours of community service, according to The New York Times.
Martha Stewart might be most remembered for her insider trading scandal, but she also had some back-tax woes for income earned in 1991 and 1992, to the tune of $220,000. Stewart’s thinking was that she didn’t owe the taxes because she spent more than half the year outside the state of New York, living in Connecticut. Unfortunately, her argument didn’t hold up in court.
Nicolas Cage is another celebrity who has suffered tax troubles. In 2010, Cage stated that over the course of his career he had paid over $70 million in taxes but he still owed $14 million to the IRS, People reported. The $14 million included $6.7 million from 2008. Cage also stated at that time that he was current on his taxes for 2009 and that all taxes he owed would be paid, according to People.
Willie Nelson, a country music icon, got creative in 1991 when it came to resolving his tax woes. Nelson owed $16.7 million to the IRS with interest and penalties due to underhanded actions by his accounting firm. But the country crooner’s attorneys managed to cut a deal for $6 million. To help pay off the debt, Nelson released an album: “The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?” of which the IRS reaped much of the profit, totaling $3.6 million.
Toni Braxton has had a multitude of financial troubles spanning over two decades, including bankruptcies from 1998 and 2010. In 2010, the singer owed almost $400,000 to Uncle Sam, according to The Blast. While she wiped out that debt, she got hit with $550,000 in back taxes in 2018 for income she earned two and three years prior.
Marc Anthony, singer and former husband of Jennifer Lopez, failed to pay the tax man more than once. His unpaid taxes totaled $2.5 million in 2007, which he was shocked to discover due to someone else handling his taxes., reported CBS News. Then, in 2010, Anthony was hit with two tax liens totaling $3.4 million on his Long Island estate.
Sinbad, comedian and actor, filed for bankruptcy in 2013. His financial troubles stemmed from his claims that he owed $8.3 million in back taxes owed to the IRS from 1998 to 2006 and hadn’t paid any state or federal tax obligations since 2009, reported ABCNews.com.
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