MIAMI (AP) – Helio Castroneves has kept his cool at speeds of more than 200 mph. There have been times he’s collided with another race car and a wall – and just walked away. He barely broke a sweat when he won the “Dancing with the Stars” TV contest in 2007.

But during his federal tax evasion trial, the handsome Castroneves was often emotional, openly sobbing in the courtroom and in front of the TV cameras outside.

On Friday, a federal jury acquitted the 33-year-old Castroneves on six counts of tax evasion but hung on one count of conspiracy, and Castroneves once again dissolved into tears – of relief. He leaned against his attorneys for support and rubbed a rosary with hands that are more accustomed to gripping a steering wheel during times of stress.

The jury also acquitted his 35-year-old sister Katiucia Castroneves, who is also is business manager, on the tax evasion counts but also unable to reach a verdict on the conspiracy charge. Michigan motorsports attorney Alan Miller, 71, was acquitted on all three counts of tax evasion and one count of conspiracy.

The jury deliberated six days after a six-week trial. In the moments after the verdict was read, Castroneves expressed profound thanks – to the jury, his family, his racing team, his fans and to God. “I tell you what,” he sighed. He scrunched up his face, ready to cry. “It’s been a long seven weeks.”

Alicia Valle, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said prosecutors will review all of the options on the hung conspiracy charge “to determine how best to proceed.” Castroneves’ lawyers said it would be “illogical to proceed” with refiling the conspiracy count.

Castroneves was temporarily replaced on Team Penske by Australian Will Power pending the outcome of the case.

During the entire trial, he’s talked of his desire to get behind the wheel. In fact, that was part of his defense team’s argument – that Castroneves is a race car driver who had only a slight understanding of his financial affairs and relied on professionals to deal with them.

Central to the case was the ownership of a Panamanian company called Seven Promotions. Prosecutors called it a shell corporation set up primarily so Castroneves could dodge U.S. income taxes, but Castroneves’ father testified he created Seven to boost his son’s image in Brazil. The elder Castroneves said his son never owned it.

Prosecutors called that a lie, showing jurors numerous documents in which Castroneves claimed Seven as his own. If it was, an Internal Revenue Service agent testified, then Castroneves owed U.S. taxes on the full $5 million from Penske even though he has never actually received the money.

Instead, the Penske payments were eventually invested in a deferred compensation deal with the Dutch firm Fintage Licensing B.V. Castroneves attorney Roy Black told jurors in closing arguments that such deals are common – and perfectly legal – for athletes who have relatively short careers and face injury or worse at any moment.

While Castroneves’ lawyers were eager to discuss the merits of the case outside the courthouse with the media refiling the conspiracy case would be “illogical,” they said – Castroneves talked about racing.

“Instead of going to Disneyland, I want to go to Long Beach to race,” he said, finally smiling.

He said he was headed to California to race in this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for Team Penske.

“The car is ready, the helmet is ready, the suit is ready,” he said. “I’m going back to racing.”

Castroneves cried a bit more while doing an interview in his native Portuguese. He turned to SPEED TV, telling them that this was the biggest victory of his career. Then an attorney squeezed his shoulder.

“We’ve got a plane to catch,” the attorney said. Castroneves climbed into the back a black Porsche SUV. It sped away from the courthouse and to the next race.



Associated Press Writer Laura Wides-Munoz contributed to this report.

AP-ES-04-17-09 1732EDT


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