'Dancing' champ Castroneves denies tax-evasion charges

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- With tears in his eyes, famed race car driver and "Dancing with the Stars" champ Helio Castroneves pleaded not guilty Friday to a seven-count tax evasion indictment.

Helio Castroneves, accused of tax-evasion, is free on $10 million bond.

Castroneves, 33, appeared in court in handcuffs and leg chains. He was ordered released on $10 million bail.

The two-time Indy 500 winner paid $2 million cash and signed an $8 million personal surety bond to gain his release. He left immediately to catch a flight to Atlanta, Georgia.

"I am not guilty," the Brazilian-born Castroneves said as he left the courthouse. "I know right from wrong and I did nothing wrong."

Castroneves, his sister, Katiucia Castroneves, and his attorney, Alan R. Miller, are accused of conspiring to conceal $5.5 million in offshore accounts between 1999 and 2004. Each count carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.

The other defendants did not enter pleas, but were ordered released on $2 million and $250,000 bail, respectively.

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In court, an attorney for Miller called the government's case "weak, thin and it's not worth the paper it's printed on." Added the attorney, Mike Tein, "If the case did not involve a celebrity, there would be no case."

The government alleges that income Helio Castroneves received from Coimex Internacional and Penske Racing was placed in an offshore Panamanian shell corporation. The indictment states that Castroneves lied about his income on his tax returns.

Tein described the offshore account in question as "a pension plan used by celebrities like the Rolling Stones," adding, "the government does not understand this pension plan."

But IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said using offshore corporations to evade taxes is a crime. "This case sends a clear message that the IRS is committed to vigorously enforcing the tax laws and stopping offshore tax evasion."

Castroneves' attorney, Mark Seiden, told CNN he believes his client will be vindicated.

"Helio is a superb and accomplished race car driver," he said. "He is not an accountant. He relied on others for his taxes. Helio did nothing wrong."


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