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Wesley Snipes' Tax Fraud and Conspiracy Trial Opens in Ocala, Fla.

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Wesley Snipes (AP)

Attorneys for Wesley Snipes ticked off more than 70 potential character witnesses, including several celebrities, as jury selection began Monday in the actor's tax fraud and conspiracy trial.

Muhammad Ali, Spike Lee, Tom Brokaw, Barbara Walters, Woody Harrelson, Sylvester Stallone and Gus Van Sant were among the names mentioned.

Snipes, 45, and two co-defendants, both known tax protesters, are accused of conspiring to defraud the U.S. of millions of dollars. Snipes allegedly first collaborated with Eddie Ray Kahn and Douglas P. Rosile in 2000, then stopped filing tax returns.

Prosecutors say he fraudulently tried to retrieve $11 million in paid 1996 and 1997 taxes and directed his movie companies to stop withholding taxes from employees.

Snipes, who starred in the "Blade" movies, faces up to 16 years in prison if convicted, while Kahn and Rosile face 10 years.

His case has been delayed twice because of his commitments and the huge volume of paperwork in the case.

Jury selection was expected to conclude Monday, with opening arguments beginning Tuesday.

Snipes had tried unsuccessfully to get his trial moved from this central Florida town, arguing it was racist and he couldn't get a fair hearing. The pool of 37 potential jurors were predominantly white, and Senior Judge William Terrell Hodges moved through them slowly.

Most had heard of the case, but not extensively.

Before court, Snipes appeared at a vigil with the leaders of several predominantly black churches. The pastors followed Snipes to the courthouse and continued to watch when jury selection began.

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