Movie Stars Can't Save Wesley Snipes From Prison

Denzel Washington, Woody Harrelson, and two TV judges wrote letters in support.


Although prosecutors urged a federal judge to give actor Wesley Snipes the maximum three-year prison sentence for tax violations—a request that was ultimately granted—the court had additional materials to consider when deciding on a sentence.

Among those were a stack of character references submitted on Snipes's behalf that describe the actor as a man of strong character and integrity (.pdf).

Although the effort failed to earn Snipes a quick sentence, it makes for a great read. Letter writers include Denzel Washington, Woody Harrelson, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Greg Mathis—that's right, both of them—and assorted movie industry folks and martial arts professionals.

Here are the highlights:

Big thanks to White Collar Crime Prof Blog for the link.

Denzel Washington

Wesley is like a tree—a mighty oak. He stands for so many, "like a tree, planted by streams of water with leaves that do not wither." Many who know him have witnessed the fruit of his labors, have sat in his shade and even been protected by his presence. I am proud of him, proud to call him a fellow thespian and most importantly, proud to call him a friend.

Woddy Harrelson

I've known Wes over 20 years, since the very beginning of my career. My first movie was also his first movie, Wildcats with Goldie Hawn. Both of us were 23 and our birthdays are only one week apart. I was, along with Goldie's character, the only Caucasian on the team. A few of the folks on the production were followers of Louis Farrakhan. It was the first time I experienced racism towards me. This was challenging and what could have been an ugly situation turned out to be quite the opposite. Wes took time to discuss and dissect the issue of racism with all of us, and most of our free time together on the set was spent discussing race from a historical perspective. He strives for rightness in all of his relations and I realized early on what a true citizen of the world Wes is. He continues to earn my respect this day.

Bob Wall, President and CEO, WorldBlackBelt

Chuck Norris and I have been partners and friends for over 42 years and back in the 1960s we built a large chain of martial arts schools. Within one day of the World Trade Center tragedy on September 11, a group of the finest martial artists were called to help create a program we named "America in Defense" (AID), later expanded and called "Aviation In Defense." Wesley Snipes was one of the outstanding people we called on whose help was instrumental in creating what we believe is the finest cabin crew self-defense program ever created...Chuck Norris admires and respects Wesley Snipes which is why he has used him in two of his Total gym infomercials. We, in the martial arts, say making mistakes is how you learn to go forward and be a better person.

Joseph B. Brown Jr., of TV ' s " Judge Joe Brown "

If I might be indulged by pointing this out, your defendant is a person possessed of an enormous appeal to today's youth. In this context, he is uniquely capable of having a very positive impact upon them with the positive message of duty and obligation that he has consistently urged upon and for them. I would propose to you that he should be permitted to persue such aims with as little penal encumbrances as is possible and appropriate...I therefore urge you, you Honor, to grant him such consideration and mercy in sentencing as you might find merited.

Shifu Shi Yan Ming, founder of USA Shaolin

I am a 34th Generation Shaolin Temple Monk who was raised at the Temple in China from the age of 5 until I defected here in 1992. I was introduced to Mr. Snipes because he wanted me to become involved in a television programme he was producing for TNT, "Master Of The Martial Arts," a subject about which he is extremely passionate. Soon after taping the show, I started training him privately. I was surprised and delighted to find that besides demonstrating the discipline, physical aptitude, and flexibility to excel as a martial artist, Mr. Snipes was equally able and willing to delve into the spiritual and philosophical side of my lifelong study.

I have trained thousands of people in my life and I can say unequivocally, that Wesley Snipes, is one of the best students I've ever had due to his dedication to an art that requires humility of self, respect for tradition, and tireless discipline."

Judge Greg Mathis, of TV ' s " Judge Mathis "

I strongly believe that jail time will not benefit Wesley and respectfully request leniency from the court. Wesley is remorseful for any involvement he had with these other individuals and is willing to share his experience with others in the community and in encourage them to not become involved in tax-related schemes to defraud the IRS.

income tax
prison sentences