Terrence Howard Ordered to Pay Nearly $1M in Federal Tax Evasion Case

A federal judge in Philadelphia has ordered Terrence Howard to pay a penalty-heavy $1 million in back taxes — a skirting of payment that the actor justified in a voicemail to an official where he asserted that it’s “immoral” for the government to tax the descendants of slaves.

The Academy Award-nominated actor has been pursued by the Justice Department for over a year for non-payment of a $578,000 income tax bill covering what he owed from his 2010-2019 returns. Howard, 54, has not responded to the DOJ or turned up to hearings, so on Feb. 22, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Found in favor of the federal government and leveled a $903,114.72 judgment against the actor. That figure accounts for unpaid federal income tax assessments, penalties and interest for the 2010, 2011, 2016, 2017 and 2019 tax years, according to the judgment obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, and accrued interest up to December of 2023 — which has and will continue to pile up until Howard pays.

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While the Empire star declined to defend himself in court, his justification for the longtime nonpayment of his income tax bill was given in a voicemail that the court attached to its ruling. After the Justice Department escalated the situation by filing a lawsuit against Howard in 2022, the actor allegedly responded to a voicemail that the case’s top DOJ attorney, Maria Elizabeth Ruwe, left with a claim that he would post the suit online in an attempt to shame her.

“Four hundred years of forced labor and never receiving any compensation for it. Now you have the gall to try and prosecute and charge taxes to the descendants of a broken people that you are responsible for causing the breakage,” Howard said in the message before it briefly cuts off; he then continued after calling back, according to the judgment. “In truth, the entire United States should, by default, become the property of the descendants of slaves. But since you do not have the ability [or] the courage to do it, let’s try this in court … We’re gonna bring you down.”

In a career that’s included portraying men who have been dogged by legal troubles — one Empire plot arc has his drug dealer-turned-music-mogul hounded by the DOJ — the case is the latest in a rocky few decades for Howard that has seen art imitating life imitating art.

Howard’s career began in the 1990s with brief TV roles giving way to supporting film work in ensemble comedies and Hollywood fare, which led to his casting in Crag Brewer’s Hustle & Flow. Prior to this breakthrough performance, he’s had multiple run-ins with the law for domestic violence and once for allegedly physically attacking a flight attendant. The actor’s failure to pay taxes dates back to this period, as liens were placed on his property in 2005 and 2006, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reports; in 2019, another lien dating back to 2010, to the tune of $144,000, was placed on his California property, this got him named on the state’s list of the 500 largest tax delinquencies, with a $256,000 tab, the paper reports.

In this period, Howard’s ongoing success in Hollywood landed him the role of James Rhodes in the 2008 smash hit Iron Man. However, he was jettisoned from the fledgling Marvel Cinematic Universe for the sequel after, as he told Andy Cohen in 2013, the smaller role for Rhodes on the follow-up movie led Marvel to try to renegotiate his salary.

Ensemble roles followed in films like Prisoners and The Best Man Holiday, but in 2015 a now-notorious Rolling Stone article titled “Terrence Howard’s Dangerous Mind” went viral. In the piece, Howard discusses his invented language, Terryology; he claimed that it will be used to logically prove that 1 x 1 = 2; what he calls proof of this came in a highly criticized 2017 tweet.

Despite the widespread confusion that came with the Rolling Stone story, his career’s next chapter began in 2015 when he took on the role of Lucious Lyon in the runaway Fox hit, Empire. Years later, a similar cat-and-mouse game that Lyon played with the Justice Department played out in Howard’s own life when he seemingly made a series of evasive moves to slip away from being served notice of this latest lawsuit.

According to prosecutors, attempts were made at a motel where Howard was believed to be staying while filming in Jackson, Mississippi; later, two tries filed at separate properties in Philadelphia; once in Chicago and another fruitless attempt in La Habra, California, where a process server reported hearing what sounded like Howard cursing in a back section of the home, which belonged to his wife.

Howard was eventually served at the Twin Cities Film Festival in September, where prosecutors discovered he was scheduled to appear in conversation.

In December, Howard filed an unrelated conflict of interest case against CAA over his Empire salary.  In the suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Howard alleged the agents who packaged his deal with Fox prioritized their own interests and those of the show’s producers, which it also represented, by inducing Howard to take below-market salaries for the lead role.

A message left on Friday with an attorney representing Howard was not immediately returned.

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