Snipes seeks venue change in tax evasion trial
EmptyOCALA, Fla. -- Wesley Snipes claims a central Florida county is too racist to allow him to get a fair trial on tax evasion charges.
An October 2006 federal indictment charges Snipes with fraudulently claiming refunds totaling nearly $12 million in 1996 and 1997 for income taxes already paid. The 45-year-old star of the "Blade" trilogy and other films also was charged with failure to file returns from 1999 through 2004.
He is scheduled to go on trial in Ocala in January.
In a motion filed Monday in U.S. District Court, Snipes' lawyer argued that the U.S. Attorney's Office willfully selected the Marion County seat of Ocala because prosecutors "deliberately chose the most racially discriminatory venue available to the government with the best possibility of an all-white Southern jury where Snipes has never resided."
Snipes' co-defendant, Eddie Ray Kahn, operated his Guiding Light of God Ministries, which prosecutors claim provided tax evasion information, from neighboring Lake County.
The motion, which seeks to have the charges dismissed or the trial moved to New York, describes the area as "a hotbed of Klan activity where the Klan adopted highways to commemorate the Klan and the Confederate flag flies over government property."
Steve Cole, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa, said prosecutors would have no comment, adding that any response would be made in court.
Snipes' lawyer, Robert Bernhoft, didn't immediately return calls Thursday seeking comment.
Chief Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway dismissed the racism argument.
"That's perhaps the most outrageous claim I've ever heard made in open court," Ridgway said. "I've been practicing here since 1983. I've never seen any evidence that there was racism here any more than anywhere else in the country. I think a person can get as fair a trial here as anywhere."