Helio Castroneves Acquitted in Tax Fraud Case
updated 04/17/2009 AT 03:50 PM EDT
•originally published 04/17/2009 AT 02:50 PM EDT
A federal jury in Miami has found the Brazilian-born Indy car driver and 2007 winner of DWTS not guilty on six counts of tax evasion. Since the 12-member jury remained deadlocked on the seventh count of conspiracy, U.S District Judge Donald Graham called a mistrial on that count.
"I am speechless and so thankful to my fans who have stood by me and kept me strong," a tearful Castroneves, 33, told PEOPLE minutes after the news broke in Miami. "I thank the judge and jury for giving me a fair trial in a foreign country. I am about to board a plane to race in the Long Beach, Calif., Grand Prix Sunday! I am so excited!"
Last year Castroneves was indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly siphoning the millions to a Panamanian shell company from 1999 to 2004. He tearfully pleaded not guilty in October.
The jury, which began deliberations last Friday after a six-week trial, had to decide whether Castroneves, his sister-manager Katiucia "Kati" Castroneves, 35, and Michigan sports attorney Alan R. Miller, 71, evaded U.S. taxes on more than $5.5 million income that the race driver earned between 1999-2004 from his arrangement with Penske Racing. In the indictment, the I.R.S. accused the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner of owing $2.3 million in taxes.
Federal prosecutors had accused them of a conspiracy using an offshore Panamanian shell corporation called Seven Promotions to conceal the true amount of the race car driver's earnings from the I.R.S. They said his earnings went straight into a Netherlands annuity account.
In another issue, Castroneves, who lives in a stunning art-filled Coral Gables mansion with his Beagle Tuggy, received $530,000 from Coimex Trading Co., a Brazilian commodities exporting concern that had sponsored him in the early years before he became an important Indy Car driver with Roger Penske's team.
Prosecutors accused him and his sister of putting those earnings in a Swiss Bank account, and so far, paying taxes on just $50,000 of the income.
"Helio will pay taxes when his retirement fund comes due like everyone else," his lawyer David M. Garvin tells PEOPLE. "I am elated that justice was served here. Now it is up to the government to decide whether it is in the best interest of justice to hassle with another case on the deadlocked count."
After the excitement of the acquittal, Castroneves, a dedicated and disciplined race car driver, is anxious to get back to work. "I am born to drive a race car and will stay with Penske," Castroneves told PEOPLE. "I can't wait to get back in the car and move forward!"