We may have mentioned this once or twice, but in case you missed the memos: It’s tax season again. By now you probably know the drill—I mean, you pay your taxes every year. But is there ever a split moment when you think, Well, what if I kept the money?
If not, congratulations, you’re an upstanding citizen. But for a handful of other dubious Americans this fleeting thought actually gets carried out, creating some of the most famous tax fraud cases in the world. Now before you start thinking, Say, maybe that’s not such a bad idea… you’ll want to keep reading.
Because these people get caught! (How else would they be the most famous cases?)
So if you ever do have that Maybe I’ll keep it moment, just read the ten stories below. Remember Al Capone? They put him away for tax evasion! Remember Wesley Snipes? Well if not, there’s a good reason—when he was caught for tax fraud, his career, his riches, and his fame all but disappeared.
Happy Tax Season everyone! (And let’s keep it legal, shall we? )
1) Willie Nelson: Good ol’ Willie may well be the poser boy for tax evasion. In 1990, the IRS sent him a bill for $16.7 million in back taxes. In order to pay back this rather large debt, Willie released an album called “The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?” The album sold well, but to speed along the process, the IRS sold nearly all of Willie’s possessions. Lucky for Willie, his friends bought most of the items (either for free or for a small fee) and returned them to the singer. Willie paid the IRS back in just three years.
2) Al Capone: This Brooklyn-born, Chicago-based gangster ran one of the biggest crime rings in history during the 1920s and 30s, all under cover of being a “furniture salesman.” He was wanted by the FBI for a list of crimes—including the 1929 “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” but this famous gangster wasn’t taken down by some murder charge—he was found guilty of tax fraud. The mobster was forced to pay $80,000 and sentenced to 11 years in jail.
3) Pete Rose: This former baseball star and manger plead guilty to filing two false income returns. However, he “forgot” to tell the IRS of any income he received from selling memorabilia, autographs, or from horseracing. He spent July 1990—January 1991 in jail and paid $366,000 in back taxes.
4) Leona Helmsley: Perhaps better known as the “Queen of Mean,” Leona Helmsley was convicted of tax evasion on April 15, 1992. Ultimately, this notoriously tyrannical businesswoman and real estate entrepreneur was convicted of tax fraud and spent four years in prison, garnering little public sympathy. During this debacle, Helmsley famously said, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” No wonder she wasn’t well liked.
5) Darryl Strawberry: This famous baseball player was indicted on tax evasion charges for failing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars he received for selling his autograph at events. In the end, he made a deal, pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion, and was ordered to pay back $350,000 in back taxes.
6) Judy Garland: Yes, sweet, innocent, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. In real life, however, Garland was a different character—she struggled in personally, monetarily, and from 1951 to 1952 she, eh, “forgot” to pay her taxes. She was audited by the IRS and had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes, during a time in which she was already struggling financially.
7) Abbott and Costello: This famous comic duo was all over the place in the 1940s and 50’s—radio, TV, movies… As a matter of fact, by the end of the 1950s, the public flat out got tired of them, and their act suffered greatly. Both men were ordered by the IRS to pay such a huge amount of back taxes, that they had to sell their homes and declare bankruptcy.
8) Wesley Snipes: Snipes was most famous for movies like Blade and U.S. Marshalls, but after 2006 when he was slapped with a serious fraud charge, he might be better known as a criminal. He was charged with conspiring to defraud the United States, along with six counts of willingly failing to file federal income tax returns, going back ten years! In 2008 he was sentenced to three years in prison, but he is still appealing the sentence. He’s currently out on bail.
9) Nicolas Cage: We’ve actually mentioned Nic Cage in a previous post on celebrity’s home foreclosures, so seeing as though we’re mentioning him here… you can see he’s not doing so well. He was the subject of an IRS investigation involving the sale of a home in Louisiana and failed federal income taxes for over $6.5 million. His solution? He sued his business manger for bad advice, of course! (Case was dismissed.)
10) Sophia Loren: This beautiful Italian movie star was imprisoned in 1982 for tax evasion, spending a whopping 18 days in jail. Whether you like it or not, her stint in prison didn’t seem to hurt her reputation, and she continues to be one of the most celebrated women in Hollywood.
So what do you think: Did the punishment fit the crime in these cases?