OCALA, Fla. - Wesley Snipes was released on $1 million bond Friday after pleading not guilty to federal charges that he failed to file tax returns and falsely claimed millions of dollars in refunds.
Snipes appeared two months after he was indicted in central Florida, and then promptly left for the African nation of Namibia to finish filming a cowboy movie. U.S. Magistrate Gary Jones gave him until Jan. 10 to return to his home in Marina del Rey, Calif., when Snipes will have to surrender his passport.
"I look forward to clearing my name and resolving this issue post haste," Snipes said, wearing blue tinted glasses and a suit. "Thank you to all my fans, thank you for all the support from my family, and to my foes, thank you very much as well."
The actor known for films such as the "Blade" trilogy, "Major League" and "Jungle Fever" did not speak during his court appearance in Ocala.
He appeared with three attorneys before departing again for Africa to finish the movie "Gallow Walker." They insisted Snipes was never a fugitive, and said they have been working for weeks with U.S. government officials to respond to the charges.
Snipes, 44, was charged in October with fraudulently claiming refunds totaling nearly $12 million in 1996 and 1997 on income taxes already paid. He was also charged with failure to file returns from 1999 through 2004. If convicted, he faces up to 16 years in prison.
"We believe the evidence in the case will show he has been the victim of unscrupulous tax advice," said Billy Martin, Snipes' lawyer.
Two men were indicted along with Snipes - Eddie Ray Kahn and Douglas P. Rosile Sr. - on conspiracy-to-defraud charges.
According to the indictment, Snipes had his taxes prepared by accountants with a history of filing false returns to reap payments for clients. The firm American Rights Litigators would receive 20 percent of refunds from clients, according to the indictment.
"Gallow Walker" will be completed next week and be released sometime next fall, said Ian Thompson, spokesman for Sheer Films, which is producing the movie. Snipes' arrest is not expected to delay production, Thompson said.
Martin said Snipes left the United States to film the movie long before the indictment.
"We want to make it clear that he did not avoid returning to the United States. He's always been ready to return," Martin said.