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Wesley Snipes may be helped by former financial advisor's arrest

The actor is fighting a tax-evasion conviction on which he faces three years in prison. Kenneth I. Starr, who has been charged with fraud and money laundering, was a prosecution witness in Snipes' trial.

May 29, 2010|By Nathaniel Popper, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from New York — — Wesley Snipes is hoping that the arrest of his former financial advisor could help reverse the actor's tax-charge conviction on which he has been sentenced to three years in prison.

Kenneth I. Starr, who was arrested Thursday and charged with fraud and money laundering in federal court in New York, was Snipes' financial advisor in the 1990s. Starr, a prosecution witness in Snipes' 2008 tax-evasion trial, testified then that he told the movie star he needed to file tax returns, despite contrary advice the actor obtained from an anti-tax outfit.

The testimony by Starr, described by the prosecutor in his closing statement as "a competent tax professional," was a major reason the jury convicted Snipes on three misdemeanor charges, said Robert Barnes, Snipes' lead trial lawyer. His client was acquitted of felony charges in the case.

Barnes said he was confident the conviction would be overturned now that Starr had been arrested.

"Wes will pursue all legal remedies if the government doesn't step up to the plate and drop these charges on its own," said Barnes, who is with the Bernhoft Law Firm in Los Angeles.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Florida that prosecuted Snipes declined to comment on Starr's arrest and said the government still intended to contest Snipes' previously filed appeal.

But some legal experts said Starr's arrest could benefit Snipes, who has not yet begun serving his sentence.

"It's a nice thing to have landed in the laps of the defense," said Ellen S. Podgor, a law professor at Stetson University who blogged on Snipes' trial. "If this was in fact the star witness, and if the guy lied, then that's pretty crucial."

During the trial the defense contended that Starr had lied on the stand.

Starr is not related to Kenneth W. Starr, the former Whitewater independent prosecutor who is leaving his position as dean at Pepperdine University's law school to become president of Baylor University in Texas.

nathaniel.popper@latimes.com

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