On top of the world a few months ago, Brazilian race car driver and "Dancing with the Stars" champ Helio Castroneves faces possible prison time if convicted at a tax evasion trial that began Monday with jury selection.
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
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
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
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, where a youthful
Castroneves broke into the sport by driving go-carts.
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.
Graham said he hoped to seat a jury of 12 people plus alternates
by late Monday or Tuesday. Many prospective jurors 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," one female juror said. Asked by
prosecutor Matt Axelrod if that would impact her ability to be
impartial, the woman answered, "Probably."
Another male juror said he had called in to vote for Castroneves
12 times on the TV show. "I was a huge fan of his," the man said.
Defense questions focused mainly on whether jurors relied on
professional expertise to file their taxes and whether they
expected to pay the least amount possible under the law.
The trial is expected to take up to six weeks, and Castroneves
has already been temporarily replaced on Team Penske by Australian
driver Will Power for the Indy Racing League season that starts
April 5 in St. Petersburg.
Two other prominent Latin American drivers - Brazilian Tony
Kanaan and Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya - may testify on
Castroneves' behalf, along with Miami philanthropist Adrienne
Miller, a former professional football player turned attorney,
has former Buffalo Bills quarterback and ex-U.S. House member Jack
Kemp and racing mogul Roger Penske on his witness list.
The defense legal team also sports some big names: Miller is
represented by Robert Bennett, who was President Bill Clinton's
lawyer in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case; Roy Black, who
represented radio host Rush Limbaugh in his prescription drug
misuse case is there on behalf of Castroneves.
Castroneves, who lives in Coral Gables, won the Indy 500 in 2001
and 2002, then rocketed to even greater fame in 2007 by winning the
television show dancing competition with partner Julianne Hough.
Castroneves and his co-defendants were indicted Oct. 2.