As we learned in a blockbuster superhero film, with great power comes great responsibility. Yet while celebrities often make far more money than the average American, they’re not necessarily better at handling it responsibly. Throughout the years, a number of famous people have owed money to the IRS, and they learned the hard way that being famous didn’t help them dodge the consequences of tax evasion.
- Martha Stewart
Besides spending five months in jail for insider trading, Martha Stewart also had to pay for back state taxes owed for the income she earned in 1991 and 1992. Stewart argued she didn’t have to pay these taxes because at the time she didn’t live in the state of New York for more than half the year. Her argument was based on the fact that she also spent time at her home in Connecticut. The judge did not agree and made her pay more than $220,000 in taxes and penalties.
- Nicolas Cage
A famous Hollywood actor, producer, and director, Nicolas Cage has acted in 86 films, including City of Angels, The Rock, and Face Off. Some argue that the reason he’s been in so many films is to pay off his debt to the IRS. In 2002, he owed $13 million in federal income taxes. That same year, he paid off roughly half his debt by selling off a castle in Bavaria, a 67-million-year-old dinosaur skull, and properties in California and New Orleans.
- Willy Nelson
Due to shady practices employed by his accounting firm, Willy Nelson owed a whopping $16.7 million to the IRS, including interest and penalties. At one point, the IRS seized most of his possessions when he couldn’t pay back his tax bill. Eventually, Nelson ended up recovering when he sued the accounting firm and won, his lawyers negotiated his tax bill down to $6 million, and he put out an album titled “The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?” The IRS got most of the sales, which totaled more than $3.6 million.
- Wesley Snipes
Wesley Snipes and his accountants and lawyers all spent time in prison for tax evasion. Snipes owed more than $15 million in taxes for income he earned between 1999 and 2001. Snipes maintained that his lawyers and accountants insisted he didn’t owe for these earnings. Regardless, he spent three years in prison followed by some time under house arrest.
- Chuck Berry
In 1979, Chuck Berry spent four months in prison for $110,000 in taxes he owed. In addition to tax evasion, he was charged with filing false tax returns. The rock star could have had it much worse, however. Based on his crimes, the IRS could have imprisoned him for up to 11 years and charged him more than $20,000 in fines.
- Darryl Strawberry
In addition to drug charges and domestic abuse, baseball star Darryl Strawberry was also found guilty of tax evasion. Strawberry pleaded guilty in 1995, admitting he had failed to report $350,000 in income earned through appearances and autograph signings between 1986 and 1990. Ultimately he owed more than $100,000 in back taxes and penalties.
- Richard Hatch
After winning the first season of CBS’s Survivor, reality star Richard Hatch was found guilty of trying to evade taxes and filing a false tax return that was supposed to include his $1 million prize from the show. Ultimately he spent 51 months in prison. However, originally he was charged with 10 tax-related crimes, which could have landed him almost 50 years in jail.
- Toni Braxton
This singer can’t seem to get her finances figured out. Braxton filed bankruptcy both in 1998 and 2010. The second time, experts estimated her net worth at $10 million, but she owed $50 million to her creditors, including almost $400,000 to the IRS. She did manage to pay off this IRS debt, but a few years later in 2018, Braxton again owed the IRS more than $550,000 in back taxes for income earned in 2015 and 2016.
- Joe Francis
Girls Gone Wild creator Joe Francis claimed his accountant messed up his tax returns. However, the same person informed the IRS of Francis’ fraud after leaving the accounting firm. Francis ended up paying $250,000 to the IRS in 2009 after being indicted for evading taxes in 2007.
- Marc Anthony
Singer Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez’s former hubby, has been in trouble for failing to pay taxes multiple times. In 2007, he owed $2.5 million in unpaid taxes to the IRS. In 2010, he received two separate tax liens for not paying taxes on his Long Island estate that totaled $3.4 million. He found out the hard way that you can divorce a spouse, but you can’t separate yourself from the IRS.
The moral of this story is simple: no matter how powerful, famous, or rich you may be, you can’t evade paying taxes. If you try, be prepared to pay fines and maybe even the ultimate penalty — serving jail time.
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