Some Celebs Who Avoided the IRS

Even though many well-known performers, athletes and entrepreneurs make more money than Midas, sometimes they just don't want to share any of those hard-earned bucks with Uncle Sam.

Tax evasion has become a widespread and costly practice. Tax avoidance schemes cost the U.S. Treasury tens of billions of dollars a year. And the IRS has not been particularly adept at catching all of the offenders. In 2000, the IRS caught about $5 billion in improper tax avoidance or tax credit and refund claims, although the General Accounting Office estimates that $20 billion to $40 billion is still uncaught.

But there are exceptions to those who get away with it. And if there's any lesson to be learned from Al Capone, the infamous mobster who was ultimately sent to the big house for tax evasion in 1930, it's that crime doesn't pay. Yet that hasn't stopped these people from trying their luck:

Gamblin' Man: Former major league baseball player Pete Rose was convicted in 1990 of filing two fraudulent tax returns and admitted concealing $300,000 of income from gambling and baseball card shows. Rose, who was banned from baseball for gambling in 1989, served five months in prison for the crime.

Pinstriped Prisoner: Troubled ex-Yankee Darryl Strawberry pleaded guilty for failing to pay taxes between 1986 and 1990. The former outfielder received a six-month sentence of home confinement and was ordered to pay $350,000 in back taxes and penalties.

Giant Omission: Former New York Giant Lawrence Taylor received three months' house arrest, five years' probation and 500 hours of community service after pleading guilty in 1997 to failing to report $48,000 in income from a sports pub he owned in East Rutherford, N.J., on his 1990 income tax return. He earned $1.39 million that year.

Paternal Problem: Steffi Graf has had her share of problems through no fault of her own. The German tennis champ's father, Peter Graf, was sentenced in 1997 to three years and nine months prison for evading taxes on $6.55 million of his daughter's tennis earnings. He was released in April 1998 after serving more than half the sentence.

Hot Hotelier: So-called "Queen of Mean" Leona Helmsley was convicted of tax evasion in 1989 after being found guilty of evading $1.2 million in federal taxes by billing $4 million in personal expenses to her business. Among the items she billed included a $130,000 indoor-outdoor stereo system for her mansion that she charged as a security expense for one of her buildings. She was sentenced to 30 months in prison, which a judge later reduced to 21 months because of her husband Harry's failing health. She ended up serving 18 months in prison, a month in a halfway house and two months of house arrest in her own posh Manhattan hotel.

Disco Evasion: Hailing the end of '70s excess, Studio 54 owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager were sentenced to 3½ years in prison and fined $20,000 each in 1980 after pleading guilty to tax evasion. A throng of 3,000 celebrity studded partygoers reportedly danced the night away at the duo's going away party held at the club the night before they served their sentence. Rubell died in 1989, while Schrager now owns a group of upscale hotels.

Madam's Miscalculation: Heidi Fleiss, former supplier of escorts to Hollywood A-listers, was sentenced to 37 months in prison for tax evasion and money laundering in 1995. Two years later she pleaded guilty to attempted pandering and was given an 18-month sentence that was served concurrently with the federal sentence. She was released from prison early for good behavior in 1999.

Country Crooner: Willie Nelson found himself in hot water in 1990 when the IRS seized the singer's assets, including his 44-acre ranch and house to recoup some of the $16.7 million he owed in penalties and interest from tax evasion charges. The IRS charged that Nelson owed $1.6 million in back taxes for 1972 through 1978. Later, in May 1988, the IRS said he owed another $9.4 million for 1979 through 1983. Nelson blamed his debts on bad advice and says he was misled by his former accountants who convinced him to invest in tax shelters.

Rock 'n' Roll Royalty: In 1979, rock 'n' roll pioneer Chuck Berry pleaded guilty to failing to report and pay taxes on over $200,000 in earnings in 1973. He served a 120-day prison sentence at a minimum security prison in Lompoc, Calif.

Loren's Lament: In 1982, sultry Italian actress Sophia Loren was sentenced to 30 days in a women's minimum security prison in Caserta, Italy, for failing to report $180,000 on her 1963 income tax return. Loren, who only served 17 days of her sentence, later called the experience hell and told NBC's Gene Shalit, "I would never go back again. No, no. Even if I killed somebody, I would never go back to prison."

No Roman Holiday: Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona must not be heeding Loren's cautionary tale because he has been fighting with Italian authorities over some $25 million in taxes Italian officials say he owes in back taxes from when he played with the Napoli soccer team in the late '80s. On a visit to Rome last year, Maradona was greeted by authorities with a writ for tax fraud, but the star has refused to pay, maintaining that the taxes were the team's responsibility. Naples' tax authority rejected his latest appeal in November.