Two-time Indy 500 winner and reality TV dance champion Helio Castroneves has emerged victorious from a tax evasion trial that could have ended his career and put him behind bars for up to six years.
A Miami jury cleared the 33-year-old Brazilian of six counts of tax evasion, but the jurors were unable to agree a verdict on the more serious charge of conspiracy and that part of the case was declared a mistrial.
Prosecutors, who had alleged the racer worked with his sister and lawyer to evade more than $2.3m in U.S. income tax, said they were reviewing their options about whether to continue pursuing the conspiracy charge.
Castroneves’ lawyers said to do so would be “illogical” but the driver himself wasn’t commenting on that – his ambitions were centred on making it to Long Beach to resume his IRL career with Team Penske.
“Instead of going to Disneyland, I want to go to Long Beach to race,” he said, parodying the post-Super Bowl Disney commercials. “I’m going back to racing.”
This is bad news for Will Power, who Team Penske recruited to fill in for Castroneves while he was unavailable. Power will drive this weekend, switching to the No. 12 car, and also at the Indianapolis 500. Apart from that, his fate is unclear.
Reacting immediately after the verdict, Castroneves thanked fans for their support. Speaking in Portuguese, he said: “I just want to thank God and my fans, and all of the people who prayed for me.”
The court had heard that much of the driver’s income was channelled through shell companies and deferred payment options – a common practice in the sports world to minimise tax liability.
But the prosecution alleged the companies were a complex attempt at avoiding taxes altogether, claiming Castroneves should have already paid the tax on substantial sums that he has earned over the years, but not yet personally received.
In reply his attorney, Roy Black, said Castroneves was largely in the dark about his financial arrangements, which were handled for him by trusted advisers: “Does anybody really think Helio Castroneves really made a financial decision? All he did was drive – and drive he did.”
What’s more, he’ll drive again – this weekend.