It has been said that only two things in life are certain, death and taxes. It could also be said that death and taxes are among the two most unpleasant facts of life. Few among us want to die, and probably fewer want to be forced to give money to the government.
But we do it because we must. We may not think we can afford it, but the penalties for failing to send our fair share to our government compels us to comply.
What is so astounding is that the richest among us — the ones who certainly can afford it — are often caught having cheated. Newspapers are full of stories of rich executives who get caught shielding their earnings from the tax man. Whether the money is hidden in accounts outside of one’s home country or large loopholes in tax codes are exploited, the tax agencies love targeting the rich and catching them for cheating.
There are two possible explanations for this.
The first is that it is just good business for auditors to go after the biggest offenders. Tax agencies have to pay the employee who is going to conduct an audit. If that audit is performed on the average person with a paltry income, the money recovered could possibly not even pay for performing the audit in the first place. Better, it is assumed, to go after the big fish.
But that is not to say that the rich are victims in the tax game. No, many are caught having brazenly broken the law.
For instance, just this February, former KeyBank executive Scott Fox was sentenced to 30 years in prison for fraud and tax evasion. Did he need the money? With an executive salary from a major financial institution, few would argue that he did. But he was eventually found guilty of having stolen $14 million. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service also nabbed him for failing to pay $1.3 million in taxes on the funds.
Greed is about the only explanation for that kind of pilfering.
Even more astounding is that celebrities, too, are sometimes nabbed for not paying taxes. Celebrities who seem to lead glamorous lives and have it easier than any of us; it seems they too can succumb to greed or just poor money management.
What would cause a celebrity who spends the majority of his or her time under the scrutiny of the public eye to resort to cheating on taxes? That’s hard to say, but another one of those pesky certainties is that they, in fact, do cheat.
Here is a list of five celebrities who got caught owing huge amounts in back taxes - and what happened to them.
5 Annie Leibovitz
Even those who don’t know the name Annie Leibovitz are familiar with her work. The 64-year-old photographer has been snapping photos for Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone magazines for decades. Among her most famous shots is one of a naked John Lennon, curled in a fetal position next to his then-girlfriend Yoko Ono. It was taken just hours before the former Beatle was killed.
Leibovitz has made a ton of cash over the course of her career. Her nearly priceless photographs enabled her to take out huge loans to purchase homes and property in and around New York City.
But in 2009 it was revealed that she was broke. So broke, in fact, that she owed the federal government $2.1 million in taxes. Some of the debt she had owed for five years.
With nowhere to turn, Leibovitiz was forced to take out a loan to pay off the tax liens and help pay down the mortgages on her properties.
But her inability to pay that off put the rights to her photographs — which she had put up as collateral — at risk. She later renegotiated the terms of her deal. That saved her photo rights, but she remained saddled with the debt.
4 Wesley Snipes
Being broke as a result of opulent living is one thing. But actually evading taxes will definitely make a sentencing judge mad.
In 2008, Wesley Snipes — of White Men Can’t Jump and Blade trilogy fame — was found to have not paid taxes on over $13 million in income. Prosecutors sought to have the book thrown at the high profile target who, they figured, owed tax collectors $2.7 million.
The judge said Snipes had exhibited a “history of contempt over a period of time” for tax laws adding that his evasion of taxes amounted to ”serious crimes, albeit misdemeanors.”
The actor attempted to avoid jail time by presenting a series of checks, totaling $5 million, to the court on the day of his sentencing.
Although it was unclear if the money would pay off all of Snipes’ interest and penalties, the prosecutors took the money.
It didn’t impress the judge though. He sentenced Snipes to three years in prison.
He was released in 2010.
3 Marc Anthony
In 2010 it was reported that recording artist Marc Anthony was making $11 million a year. His wife, Jennifer Lopez, was making $20 million. But that was also the year that news reports revealed that Anthony was a serial tax evader.
In 2010, Anthony was slapped with a $3.4 million tax lien. That included $1.6 million he owed in taxes on his enormous Long Island estate.
The most shocking part of that fishy financial news was that it wasn’t Anthony’s first time being in hot water with the tax man.
In 2007 the IRS came knocking, looking for $2.5 million. That was to pay money the singer owed for the four previous years when he failed to even file a tax return. That kind of forgetfulness would land most people in jail. Luckily, Anthony could still afford good lawyers.
2 Nicholas Cage
Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s Nicolas Cage seemed to have a promising career ahead of him as an actor. He starred in the 1987 Coen Brothers’ hit Raising Arizona. In 1996 he won an Oscar for Best Actor for his leading role in Leaving Las Vegas. Heck, in 2003 he got nominated for another Oscar, this time for Adaptation.
These days Cage is known for less impressive roles, like those in Ghost Rider or National Treasure.
How did he fall from grace? Well it probably had something to do with getting smacked with a $14 million tax bill in 2010 — a bill he said he was determined to pay off.
With that kind of debt, one can’t be too choosy on the job market.
No one knows if he will succeed in paying back the money, but he keeps trying - one bad movie at a time.
1 Willie Nelson
Perhaps the most infamous celebrity tax evasion scandal of all time was the 1990 shady dealings of Willie Nelson. That was when the IRS told the iconic country star that he owed them $16.7 million.
To be fair, ol’ Willie may not have been totally at fault. He ended up suing the firm handling his taxes for putting his cash in an illegal tax shelter. The suit was settled out of court.
That may have partially cleared his name, but the government still cleared him of his assets — even seizing his ranch in Texas.
Really the only thing he managed to keep was his iconic guitar that his daughter shipped to Hawaii before agents came to his home.
His attorneys eventually negotiated down the sum he owed, and Nelson released a compilation of hits called The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories? to help pay off the debt.
By 1993 he was current with his taxes.