Racing: Helio’s tax trial under way
By Curt Anderson
Associated PressMIAMI ó On top of the world a few months ago, Brazilian race car driver and “Dancing with the Stars” champion Helio Castroneves faces possible prison time if convicted at a tax evasion trial that began Monday with selection of a jury.
An ethnically diverse panel of five men and seven women was chosen to hear the case, with attorneys’ opening statements set for Tuesday.
Castroneves, a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, smiled broadly as he entered Miami’s downtown federal courthouse. Prosecutors say Castroneves, his business-manager sister Katiucia and Michigan attorney Alan R. Miller conspired to hide about $5.5 million in income from the Internal Revenue Service using offshore accounts.
Castroneves claims he relied on experts to advise him on handling finances. He also says his father controlled a Panamanian entity called Seven Promotions at the heart of the prosecution’s case.
Castroneves claims the money Seven Promotions received wasn’t his tax liability because the income was for his father, who had financed and promoted his son’s career for over 10 years.
Castroneves, his sister and Miller also deny acting “willfully” to evade taxes and that they took improper deductions.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Castroneves, 33, could get more than six years in prison if convicted of conspiracy and tax evasion from 1999 to 2004. That would short-circuit a brilliant racing career that began in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Before the trial, U.S. District Judge Donald Graham rejected defense efforts to introduce a large amount of racing memorabilia and numerous photos of Castroneves’ rise from obscurity to the pinnacle of his sport.
“It seems to me that many of these exhibits are far afield of the issues in this case,” Graham said.
During questioning of prospective jurors, many said they had watched Castroneves either in a race or on the TV dance competition, which he won in 2007.
“I watched him every week on ‘Dancing With The Stars’ and you feel like you know the person,” a female member of the jury pool said. Asked by prosecutor Matt Axelrod if that would impact her ability to be impartial, the woman answered, “Probably.”