MIAMI - Brazilian race car driver and "Dancing With TheStars" champ Helio Castroneves was acquitted Friday of mostcharges that he worked with his sister and lawyer to evade morethan $2.3 million in U.S. income taxes.
A federal jury acquitted Castroneves on six counts of taxevasion but hung on one count of conspiracy. The jury alsoacquitted Katiucia Castroneves, 35, who is her 33-year-oldbrother's business manager, on the tax evasion counts but also hungon the conspiracy. Michigan motorsports attorney Alan Miller, 71,was acquitted on all three counts of tax evasion and one count ofconspiracy. The jury deliberated six days after a six-week trial.
Castroneves, speaking in his native Portuguese, expressedprofound relief.
"I just want to thank God, and my fans, and all of the peoplewho prayed for me," he said outside the courtroom, still fingeringa rosary.
"It has been a very difficult place to be in," he said, butadded that his faith had seen him through. He said he planned toleave Friday night for Los Angeles.
All three faced more than six years in prison if convicted ofconspiracy and tax evasion between 1999 and 2004. The case mainlyrevolved around income from a $2 million sponsorship dealCastroneves had with the Brazilian firm Coimex and his $5 millionlicensing deal he reached with Penske Racing in late 1999.
Castroneves, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and one of theIndy racing circuit's most popular drivers, was temporarilyreplaced on Team Penske by Australian Will Power pending theoutcome of the case. Castroneves won the TV dance competition in2007.
Central to the case was the ownership of a Panamanian companycalled Seven Promotions. Prosecutors called it a shell corporationset up primarily so Castroneves could dodge U.S. income taxes, butCastroneves' father testified he created Seven to boost his son'simage in Brazil. The elder Castroneves said his son never owned it.
Prosecutors called that a lie, showing jurors numerous documentsin which Castroneves claimed Seven as his own. If it was, anInternal Revenue Service agent testified that Castroneves owed U.S.taxes on the full $5 million from Penske even though he has neveractually received the money.
Instead, the Penske payments were eventually invested in adeferred compensation deal with the Dutch firm Fintage LicensingB.V. Castroneves attorney Roy Black told jurors in closingarguments that such deals are common -- and perfectly legal -- forathletes who have relatively short careers and face injury or worseat any moment.
Black also said Castroneves had only a slight understanding ofhis financial affairs and relied on professionals to deal withthem.
"Does anybody really think Helio Castroneves really made afinancial decision. All he did was drive -- and drive he did,"Black said.
Prosecutor Matt Axelrod, however, said it made little sense forCastroneves to sign away $5 million to Seven if he had no control.
"You don't send millions of dollars to a company you don't ownor control," Axelrod said.
Besides the Penske and Coimex money, Castroneves was chargedwith claiming thousands of dollars in improper tax deductions andfailing to disclose as income Hugo Boss clothing and airlinetickets he received.