4 Ways to Meet Wesley Snipes in Prison

Last Updated Dec 3, 2010 5:01 PM EST

It's pretty rare to send A-list actors to the federal penitentiary, but that's just where Wesley Snipes is headed next week, when he must report to prison to start serving a sentence for willful failure to file tax returns.

Want to join him? You can, but it's not easy. Run-of-the-mill tax cheating won't get you a stint in the federal pen. You've got to go that extra mile. Here's what to do.

Shout: "Taxes are voluntary"
This little semantic battle began when some genius wrote in the 1040 instruction book that the U.S. tax system is based on "voluntary" compliance. It is. We also rely on "voluntary compliance" to get people to stop at traffic lights and show up at your mother's for Thanksgiving dinner.

No one has a gun to your head. You have free will. But if you get caught not paying taxes, zipping through stop lights or avoiding your family on major holidays, you know what's going to happen and it's not pretty.

It's even worse if you violate the rules loudly. Why? You might influence others. The IRS will fine you aggressively if you fail to file a return and pay your own taxes. But if you get caught shouting from the rooftops that taxes are voluntary, think: "Cuff him, Dano." You're going down.

Claim wages are not "income."
This is a clever one: The argument is that wages are not taxable because there's no gain. You've simply exchanged your time for their money. In the alternate universe where Tax Protestors live, these are called "time reimbursement transactions." The 16th Amendment (which ushered in the U.S. tax system) only authorized taxes on "gain" or "profit," they say. If that doesn't work, they'll claim that only foreign-source income is taxable. Or that "federal reserve notes" (we'd call that money) does not constitute taxable income because they're not backed by gold anymore. Clever arguments, every one. If only the courts would agree. Alas. Income by another name (such as "time reimbursement") is still income, according to Reese vs. U.S. and dozens of cases decided since then.

Play Amateur Historian
The history books say that the 16th Amendment was ratified on Feb. 3, 1913. But was it? You suspect conspiracy. Ohio wasn't a state yet, you say. Sure, in Bowman vs. United States, it says that the Amendment that ushered in the U.S. tax system was properly ratified -- despite the fact that Ohio's status as a state (won in 1803) wasn't "confirmed" until 1953. Admittedly later cases noted that two states (in addition to Ohio) joined the original 40 making the tax system undeniable. But you, amateur historian, remain unconvinced.

Go ahead. Make your own history. But if you act on this belief -- or encourage others to -- expect to see some big guys in bad suits at your door with a warrant for your arrest.

Make the "Men In Black" Argument
Some people need to pay taxes, you allow, but you are not a "person" subject to that silly tax law. Are you contending that you are only visiting this planet until your spaceship can be repaired? Not necessarily. If you were Ruth Studley, you argued that you were not a taxpayer because you were "an absolute, freeborn and natural individual." You go, girl.

Incidentally, the IRS has a long and not-so-amusing treatise on its web page called "The Truth About Frivolous Tax Arguments." It posted this hoping that reasonable people wouldn't get taken in -- and lured into serious tax trouble -- by listening to numb skulls peddling imaginative tax theories.

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