Archive for March, 2009

Dancing with the Feds
March 2, 2009

Helio Castroneves may be the happiest defendant I’ve ever seen.


He arrived at Miami’s federal courthouse for his trial on tax evasion buoyant and smiling.  If you didn’t know better, you’d think he was on his way to a victory lap around the track, or another interview on the Starstruck TV Network about mastering some fancy footwork on “Dancing With the Stars”.


Instead, he was about to watch some very smart lawyers pick the 12 people who will decide whether he, his sister and their lawyer hid $5.5 million in income in a corporation in Panama so they’d avoid paying their taxes on it.


The evidence promises to include some mind-numbing, eye-glazing complexities of the US Internal Revenue Code, which will require a bit more analysis than determining which colorfully-clad (and at times hardly clad) celebu-dancers to call in and vote for on any given week of the “Dancing With the Stars” competition.


One of the potential jurors admitted he did that.  Every week for 12 weeks, he called in to vote for Castroneves to win.   


Prosecutor Matt Axelrod: “Do you think the fact that you called in and voted for him all 12 weeks would it make it hard to be fair and impartial?”


Potential juror and die-hard fan: “To be honest? Yes.”


Thank you for your honesty, sir.  You’re dismissed.


By day’s end, seven men and five women were seated.

Judging from the questions posed by Castroneves’s attorney, his defense strategy seems to lie somewhere between “I counted on my excellent financial advisors to tell me how to handle my income” and “Wouldn’t you look for ways to pay as little tax as legally possible, too”.


Castroneves admitted he’s out of the driver’s seat in the tax and money department, has little idea of calculations and complications but trusts his fine attorneys to figure it all out for him.    He said it in that dimply, twinkly, self-deprecating way that makes successful people who admit an area of complete cluelessness seem sweetly humble, and even more appealing.


I’ve never seen an Indy race.  I’ve never called in a vote to a television competition.  But happy Helio seems like a nice guy.  I really hope he isn’t a selfish, conspiring tax cheat.