(by Curt Anderson AP Legal Affairs Writer 3-11-09)
MIAMI -- Race car driver and TV dance celebrity Helio Castroneves never sought to break the law in his financial affairs but could have avoided all U.S. tax on about $5 million if he had relocated from south Florida to Monaco as envisioned, an accountant testified Wednesday at Castroneves' tax evasion trial.
Kevin Savoree, now an executive at Andretti Green Racing, said when he handled accounting work for Castroneves in 1999 and 2000, the plan was to set up a legitimate deal in which much of the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner's income would be deferred. That meant his taxes owed to the IRS also would be deferred until he actually got the money.
"Helio Castroneves never suggested that you do something improper, right?" asked Castroneves attorney David Garvin.
"Absolutely not," Savoree replied.
But Savoree acknowledged helping draft a memo describing the ultimate goal as having Castroneves "maintain a residence in a tax haven, such as Monaco." Castroneves, a Brazilian citizen in the U.S. on a work visa, currently lives in Coral Gables, Fla., just south of Miami.
Asked by prosecutor Jared Dwyer how much U.S. tax Castroneves would have paid on the $5 million if he had made that move, Savoree answered, "Perhaps zero."
Savoree said Castroneves had minimal involvement in his financial dealings, but he also said the race car driver got "mad as hell" at one point as discussions dragged on in 2000 about the deferred income account.
"He was upset. He wanted the matters resolved," Savoree testified.
Castroneves, his sister-manager Katiucia Castroneves and Michigan attorney Alan Miller all face more than six years in prison if convicted of conspiracy and tax evasion charges involving about $5.5 million in income. The years in question, 1999-2004, were well before Castroneves won TV's "Dancing With The Stars" competition in 2007.
The deferred income account was eventually set up in 2003 when Penske Racing, which had signed Castroneves in 1999, deposited $5 million in the Dutch firm Fintage Licensing B.V. Penske also directly paid Castroneves $1 million over three years, on which he paid U.S. taxes.
The original plan was for Penske to transfer the money to a Panamanian company called Seven Promotions. But Savoree said he balked at that because Panama's status as a tax haven meant Penske would deduct 30 percent for U.S. taxes from the $5 million before making the deposit.
"I wasn't comfortable with Panama," he testified.
Prosecutors say Castroneves secretly controlled Seven Promotions and therefore is liable for taxes on the entire $5 million, even though it eventually wound up with the Dutch firm. Defense lawyers contend the company was formed by the driver's father, meaning no taxes are owed.