Celebrities Who Failed to Pay Taxes

Three things in life are certain, to riff on an old saying: death, taxes – and efforts by some to avoid both.

Americans owe about $290 billion in back taxes, according to the Internal Revenue Service. The number, which dates back to 2001, is the most recent estimate available. It includes not just those who purposefully fudged their taxes, but also those who may have underreported their income by mistake or who are late on payments.

Judging by news in the gossip rags and elsewhere, a good slice of this debt is owed by celebrities.

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"Many times celebrities are the victims of bad advice or incompetency of their tax advisor," says Robert Bernhoft, a lawyer who represents high-profile defendants in disputes with the IRS.

"Because there are fairly large numbers involved, when celebrities get entangled with the IRS it attracts a lot of attention."

With the April 15 tax deadline around the corner, we took a look at some of the most publicized recent celebrity run-ins with the IRS.

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Nightline: Joe Francis of 'Girls Gone Wild' in Tax Trouble with the IRS

Wesley Snipes

Famous for his roles in films ranging from Spike Lee's "White Men Can't Jump" to action thrillers such as "Blade," Snipes was convicted of tax fraud in 2008. Jurors concluded that he failed to file taxes on "unreported" gross income of $13 million earned between 1999 and 2001. He was sentenced to three years in prison, but remains free while he appeals.

Nicolas Cage

As one of Hollywood's best-paid actors, with an Oscar for his starring role in "Leaving Las Vegas," Cage has managed to dig himself a pretty deep hole. Cage has been in trouble with the IRS for several years, after what he claims was mismanagement by a former business advisor.

In January Cage told People.com that he still owes the IRS $14 million. To help pay off his bills, Cage has reportedly sold off a wide range of assets, including a 14,300-square-foot Las Vegas mansion.

Burt Reynolds

The mustachioed "Smoky and the Bandit" star owes the cash-depleted California government some $225,000 going back to 1996, according to recently released government documents. That puts him in spot No. 247 of California's biggest tax scofflaws. Reynolds was not available for comment.

Marc Anthony

Anthony, the Latino heartthrob and husband of Jennifer Lopez, wasn't able to sing himself out of a hefty IRS charge. The voice behind "I Need to Know" agreed to pay $2.5 million in back taxes, interest and penalties in 2007, after he failed to file tax returns for five years, according to the Associated Press.

Ruben Studdard

The "American Idol" crooner from Alabama ended up with property liens for failing to pay almost $200,000 in taxes between 2003 and 2005, the same year he won the TV contest. Court records cited by AP last year showed that he owed the federal government $171,920 in unpaid income taxes and $21,730 in state income taxes. Studdard's manager did not immediately return calls for comment.

Helio Castroneves

Cute, fast and coordinated.But that didn't protect Castroneves, the Brazilian race car driver and "Dancing With the Stars" contestant, from trouble with the IRS.

Castroneves last year paid $5 million in back taxes to the IRS, on $15 million of income parked in a Dutch annuity account, according to the Miami Herald. His lawyers claimed the oversight was a result of Castroneves' ignorance of US tax laws, while the prosecutors argued the racer intentionally evaded taxes, according to Sports Illustrated. Castroneves won the Indy 500 in 2001, 2002 and 2009, making him one of the most successful racers in the world.

Timothy Geithner

As Treasury Secretary, Geithner is not only in charge of managing the nation's economy, debt and currency, but he also oversees the IRS. Ironically, the 48-year-old Dartmouth graduate said he forgot to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes taxes for several years during his tenure at the International Monetary Fund. Not only did he fail to pay more than $17,000 of taxes owed in 2003 and 2004 that the IRS found out about during a routine audit in 2006, but he also owed almost $26,000 that the Obama transition team discovered while vetting him for the Treasury job. After he took responsibility for the mistake and told senators it was unintentional, he still got the job. He has since paid his back tax bill.

Dionne Warwick

One of the most successful pop singers of all time, Dionne Warwick has California's third-biggest tax debt, worth $2.2 million. Warwick, who is Whitney Houston's cousin, has owed taxes for 11 years, according to recently released government documents. Warwick was not available for comment.

Joe Francis

Creating a hugely successful soft-porn franchise, "Girls Gone Wild," doesn't get one out of paying taxes. Joe Francis, who started his company, Mantra Films, when he was just 24, and paid $249,705 in back taxes last year after the IRS accused him of filing false tax returns. David Houston, Francis' lawyer argued that Francis had been deceived by his accountant into filing the returns. "There was never any criminal intent on the part of Mr Francis," says Houston. After agreeing to make the payment and pleading guilty to a misdemeanor last fall, Francis issued a press release saying: "I am grateful that Judge Otero accepted my plea today."

Jose Canseco

The former slugger for the Oakland A's owes more than $320,000, according to a Detroit News from February, which suggests he may be trying to pay the bills by appearing now in reality shows and mixed martial arts shows.

Canseco is no stranger to money woes. One of Major League Baseball's most outspoken players, Canseco lost his home to foreclosuretwo years ago, with a debt of more than $2.5 million.

Canseco became famous in the 1980s and 1990s for his stellar hitting record, but most recently became known for his book "Juiced," in which he alleged widespread steroid use in baseball. The Detroit News says the IRS has filed a $121,209 lien against Canseco, while courts in California filed liens for another $200,000.

Canseco was not immediately available for comment.

ABC News' Rich Blake and Alice Gomstyn contributed to this report.