In 2010, Snipes began serving a three-year prison sentence in McKean County, Pennsylvania for misdemeanor failure to file U.S. federal income tax returns. He was released from prison in 2013.
Early life and educationSnipes was born in Orlando, Florida on July 31, 1962, the son of Marian, a teacher's assistant, and Wesley R. Snipes, an aircraft engineer. He grew up in The Bronx, New York City. He attended P.S. 132, an elementary school in The Bronx. Snipes graduated from I.S. 131, a middle school in The Bronx, and also attended the famed Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing, but moved back to Florida before he could graduate. After graduating from Jones High School in Orlando, Snipes returned to New York and attended the State University of New York at Purchase. Snipes also attended Southwest College in Los Angeles.
Snipes' performance in the music video "Bad" caught the eye of director Spike Lee. Snipes turned down a small role in Lee's Do the Right Thing for the larger part of Willie Mays Hayes in Major League, beginning a succession of box-office hits for Snipes. Lee would later cast Snipes as the jazz saxophonist Shadow Henderson in Mo' Better Blues and as the lead in the interracial romance drama Jungle Fever. He played the drug lord Nino Brown in New Jack City, which was written specifically for him by Barry Michael Cooper. He also played a drug dealer in the 1994 film Sugar Hill.
Snipes has played a number of roles in action films like Passenger 57, Demolition Man (with Sylvester Stallone), Money Train, The Fan, U.S. Marshals and Rising Sun, as well as comedies like White Men Can't Jump, and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar where he played a drag queen. Snipes has appeared in dramas like The Waterdance and Disappearing Acts.
In 1997, he won the Best Actor Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival for his performance in New Line Cinema's One Night Stand. In 1998, Snipes had his largest commercial success with Blade, which has grossed over $150 million worldwide. The film turned into a series. He also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, SUNY/Purchase. In 2005, Snipes sued New Line Cinema, and David S. Goyer, director of Blade: Trinity, which Snipes also produced. He claimed that the studio did not pay his full salary, that he was intentionally cut out of casting decisions, and that his character's screen time was reduced in favor of co-stars Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel. The suit was later settled, but no details were released.
His latest films are The Shooter (also known as The Contractor), filmed in Bulgaria and the UK, Gallowwalker, released in 2009, and Game Of Death.
Snipes was originally slated to play one of the four leads in Spike Lee's 2008 war film Miracle at St. Anna but had to leave the film due to tax problems; his role eventually went to Derek Luke.
Other venturesIn the late 1990s, Snipes and his brother started a security firm called the Royal Guard of Amen-Ra, dedicated to providing VIPs with bodyguards trained in law enforcement and martial arts. Amen- ra is also the name of his film company. In 1996, the first film produced by Amen Ra was A Great And Mighty Walk – Dr. John Henrik Clarke.
In 2000, the business was investigated for alleged ties to the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors. It emerged that Snipes had spotted 200 acres (0.81 km2) of land with the intention to buy and use for his business academy, which were close to the compound in Putnam County, Georgia. Both Snipes' business and the groups used Egyptian motifs as their symbols. Ultimately, Snipes and his brother did not buy the land, instead establishing their company in Florida, Antigua, and Africa.
In 2005, Snipes was in negotiations to fight Fear Factor host Joe Rogan.
Snipes has been married twice, first to April Snipes, with whom he has a son, Jelani Asar Snipes, born in 1988. Jelani had a cameo role in Snipes' 1990 film Mo' Better Blues. In 2003, Snipes married painter Nakyung "Nikki" Park, with whom he has four children: son Akhenaten Kihwa-T Snipes, daughter Iset Jua-T Snipes (born 2001), son Alaafia Jehu-T Snipes (born 2004), and son Alimayu Moa-T Snipes (born 2007). Snipes spends a lot of time in Park's home country of South Korea, which he calls his "second home."
Snipes, who was raised a Christian, converted to Islam in 1978, but left Islam in 1988. During a 1991 interview, Snipes said "[Islam made] me more conscious of what African people have accomplished, of my self-worth, [and gave] me some self-dignity."
Snipes' apartment was destroyed by the collapse of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers during the September 11 attacks. He was on the West Coast at the time. During his time in New York, Snipes was trained in fighting by his friend and mentor Brooke Ellis.
Tax convictionOn October 12, 2006, Wesley Snipes, Eddie Ray Kahn, and Douglas P. Rosile were charged with one count of conspiring to defraud the United States and one count of knowingly making or aiding and abetting the making of a false and fraudulent claim for payment against the United States. Snipes was also charged with six counts of willfully failing to file federal income tax returns by their filing dates. The conspiracy charge against Snipes included allegations that he filed a false amended return, including a false tax refund claim of over US$4 million for the year 1996, and a false amended return, including a false tax refund claim of over US$7.3 million for the year 1997. The government alleged that Snipes attempted to obtain fraudulent tax refunds using a tax protester theory called the "861 argument" (essentially, an argument that the domestic income of U.S. citizens and residents is not taxable). The government also charged that Snipes sent three worthless, fictitious "bills of exchange" for $14 million to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
The government also charged that Snipes failed to file tax returns for the years 1999 through 2004.
In a December 4, 2006, letter from Snipes in response to his indictment, he declared himself "a non-resident alien" of the United States; in reality, Snipes is a U.S. born citizen. Snipes said he was being made an example of and was unfairly targeted by prosecutors because of his fame in connection with the federal tax fraud investigation.
On February 1, 2008, Snipes was acquitted on the felony count of conspiracy to defraud the government and on the felony count of filing a false claim with the government. He was, however, found guilty on three misdemeanor counts of failing to file federal income tax returns (and acquitted on three other "failure to file" charges). His co-defendants, Douglas P. Rosile and Eddie Ray Kahn, were convicted on the conspiracy and false claim charges in connection with the income tax refund claims filed for Snipes.
On April 24, 2008, Snipes was sentenced to three years in prison for willful failure to file federal income tax returns under 26 U.S.C. § 7203. Kahn was sentenced to 10 years in prison and Rosile was sentenced to four and half years in prison. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed Snipes's convictions in a 35-page decision issued on July 16, 2010. Snipes reported to federal prison on December 9, 2010, to begin his three-year sentence, and was held at McKean Federal Correctional Institution, a federal prison in Pennsylvania, until he was released on Tuesday, April 2, 2013. In the interim, on June 6, 2011, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear Snipes' appeal.