Helio Castroneves has been acquitted of most charges in his tax evasion trial, after a federal judge declared a mistrial. The decision allows Castroneves to resume his IndyCar Series career with Team Penske, and the team subsequently announced that the Brazilian would return to the cockpit for this Saturday's sessions at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The double Indianapolis 500 winner had been accused of failing to declare several million dollars of income between 1999 and 2004, but his defense argued that he had not been due to receive the payments until later this year, and that he had allowed others to take charge of his financial arrangements.
The jury had deliberated on the seven charges for almost a week, and had to ask for clarification on several legal issues. Yesterday, they informed the judge that they had reached a verdict on two of the charges but remained hung on the others, and Judge Donald Graham urged them to find common ground as soon as possible. This afternoon they returned not guilty verdicts in six of the seven charges, but remained hung on one count of conspiracy.
Castroneves' sister Katiucia received an identical judgment, while the driver's attorney, Alan Miller, was acquitted on all three tax evasion charges and one count of conspiracy. The judge then declared a mistrial on the remaining counts facing the Castroneves siblings. Prosecutors could opt to retry the Castroneves siblings on the unresolved counts of conspiracy at a later date.
Castroneves has not raced since the IndyCar Series' non-championship event in Surfers Paradise last autumn, with Will Power taking his place in Penske's IndyCar lineup. The Penske team subsequently confirmed at a press conference in Long Beach that Castroneves will return to the series immediately. Castroneves will take over his old No. 3, with Power switching to a third entry carrying No. 12 and sponsored by Verizon Wireless.
“We’re looking forward to having [Helio] in the car with us in the No. 3 car tomorrow [Saturday],” said Team Penske’s Tim Cindric. “We’ll make an additional entry for Will Power in the No. 12 Verizon Wireless car. Helio will arrive this evening.”
Cindric added that Power's Verizon No. 12 entry would definitely compete in next month's Indianapolis 500 as well, and indicated that additional events for the Australian in a third Penske entry would be considered on a "case-by-case basis."
Brian Barnhart, president of competition and racing operations for the Indy Racing League, also expressed his pleasure at the happy resolution of the case for Castroneves.
“We couldn’t be happier for Team Penske, Helio Castroneves and his family and look forward to having him back on the race grid," said Barnhart. "Helio has played an integral part in the growth of the IndyCar Series on and off the racetrack the past few years and has an incredible legion of fans. He is a true star in every sense of the word and his infectious personality, popularity and success on the racetrack is welcomed back.”