Gangsta rapper jailed over tax evasion

A self-proclaimed rap "gangsta" is going to jail for committing a white-collar crime: tax evasion.

Multi-platinum selling artist Ja Rule, whose real name is Jeffrey Atkins, has been sentenced to 28 months in federal prison for failing to report more than US$3m in earnings from 2004 through 2006.

Just one month earlier, the rapper and sometimes actor was sentenced to up to two years in state prison in New York on a concealed weapons charge.

According to the AccountingWEB.com website, Ja Rule has freely admitted he didn't even file tax returns for a five-year stretch. The charges relating to the other two years were dismissed in the plea bargaining deal, but he's still on the hook to the Internal Revenue Service for the other three years and US$1.1 million in back taxes.

The IRS continues to target entertainers, industry leaders, and others among the rich and famous as a means of increasing voluntary tax compliance. Last year actor Wesley Snipes started serving a three-year term stemming from three counts of willful failure to file tax returns for 1999 through 2001. Previously, hotelier Leone Helmsley, the notorious “Queen of Mean”, was sentenced to four years in prison and socked with a US$7.1m fine on top of a tax bill of US$1.7m. Helmsley was famously quoted as saying, "Only the little people pay taxes."

During the last decade, Ja Rule cranked out numerous hit recordings like "Holla, Holla" and "It's Murda," as well collaborations with more mainstream artists like Jennifer Lopez and Ashanti. He has appeared in a dozen films ranging from his role as a street racer in the "Fast and the Furious" to lighter fare like "The Cookout" with Queen Latifah. He has also engaged in well-publicised feuds with rappers Eminem, 50 Cent, and DMX.

Minutes before his sentencing, the gangster rapper proclaimed his innocence and chalked up the tax problems to bad advice. "I in no way attempted to deceive the government or do anything illegal," Ja Rule said, according to the New York Post. "I was a young man who made a lot of money - I'm getting a little choked up - I didn't know how to deal with these finances, and I didn't have people to guide me, so I made mistakes."

The time that Ja Rule spends in jail on the weapons bust can count against the time he must serve in federal prison for the tax evasion charges. If his state sentence is reduced to 18 months for good behaviour, he could get out after serving an extra 10 months.

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