Celebrity Tax Evaders Run But Can’t Hide

October 1, 2009 at 2:00 am 1 comment

Hide and Seek

As Mark Twain said, “The only certainties in life are death and taxes.” That is, of course, unless you decide to not pay your taxes. Some well known celebrities fall into this camp.

The financial crisis has hit the economy hard and the impact has been felt directly by our nation’s cash register (i.e., the Internal Revenue Service – IRS). Based on 2006 IRS data, the U.S. had about an 84% Voluntary Compliance Rate (VCR) by tax payers in 2001; a goal of 85% VCR in 2009; and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus has thrown out a 90% voluntary compliance goal by 2017. Those collection goals may be a little ambitious given the recession and the escalating unemployment trends over 2008 – 2009.

So who makes up the deadbeats who have deliberately or unintentionally not paid their taxes? Obviously 10-15% of the non-paying tax-payer base is a large number, but the real fun comes by tracking the smaller celebrity component of the tax evaders. Let’s take a look at some of the more prominent dodgers (data provided by The Daily Beast):

  • O.J. Simpson:  In 2007 the state of California placed listed Mr. Simpson as one of their worst tax offenders, owing close to $1.5 million. Currently he is serving a 33-year sentence in a Nevada prison for an armed robbery and kidnapping conviction.
  • Willie Nelson: The long-haired hippy and king of country music, Willie Nelson, was hunted down by the IRS for $16.7 million in 1990. Fortunately for him, his star-power allowed him to record albums and pay back his debt by 1993.
  • Wesley Snipes:  The Blade movie star claimed the reason he owed more than $17 million in taxes, penalties, and interest is because he was a “non-resident alien.” The judge didn’t buy the explanation, and now he is appealing a three-year prison sentence.
  • Pete Rose: “Charlie Hustle,” the all-star baseball player of the Cincinnati Reds served five months in prison for not paying taxes on his autograph, memorabilia, and horse-racing income. Mr. Rose cleared the slate by performing 1,000 hours of community service and paying off $366,000 in debt.
  • Nicolas Cage: Not sure if he is shooting a movie in New Orleans, but Mr. Cage is attempting to iron out a $6.2 million tax liability through a Louisiana court for his failure to keep up with 2007 taxes.
  • Judy Garland: Men are not the only non-compliers, even if they account for the majority. Judy Garland, from Wizard of Oz fame, had her own tax problems. Besides tax evasion charges in the early 1950s, she accumulated about $4 million in IRS debt after her 1964 variety show (The Judy Garland Show) was cancelled.
  • Al Capone: One of most well known cases in tax evasion history is tied to famous mobster Al Capone. After a long, controversial trial, Mr. Capone was convicted and handed an 11-year sentence, predominantly at Alcatraz. He got out early on parole in 1939 and kept a relatively low profile.

There are countless others that have gotten into tax problems with the IRS. Many of them make plenty of money to pay their taxes, however spending habits, laziness, or aggressive tax accountants may explain the reasons behind the tax evasion problems.

See a more complete media gallery of tax evaders here, provided by The Daily Beast.

Regardless of the celebrities’ tax-paying compliance rates, the IRS will have its collection hands full, given the sad state of the current economic environment and the crafty tax-dodging techniques pursued by some citizens. Unlike others, I’ll make sure to write myself a note, reminding me to write a check to my friends at the IRS on April 15th – especially if it involves millions.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

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