MIAMI (SI.com) -- Indy race car champion Helio Castroneves was acquitted on six counts of tax evasion by a Federal jury. The jury is still hung on one count of conspiracy.
Castroneves, a 33-year-old Brazilian racecar driver and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, gained fame off the racetrack in 2007 when he won "Dancing With the Stars" with partner Julianne Hough. He faced up to six and a half years in prison and, as a non-U.S. citizen, possible deportation upon his prison release if convicted.
"It's been a nightmare," an emotional Castroneves told reporters. "Instead of going to Disneyland, I want to go to Long Beach and race."
Castroneves has been replaced by Australian Will Power on Team Penske during the case. But on the heels of the verdict, a third Team Penske car is being prepared for him to compete in Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the second IndyCar Series race this season.
"We're working on a couple of contingency programs," said Tim Cindric, president of Team Penske.
During the case, prosecutors stated that Castroneves set up a shell corporation to dodge U.S. income taxes. His attorney, Roy Black, said Castroneves had trusted professionals to handle his financial affairs.
At its core, the prosecution's case against Castroneves rested on whether he willfully used a Panamanian bearer share corporation called Seven Promotions to hide taxable income. While by no means proof of wrongdoing, the use of a Panamanian bearer share corporation routinely triggers suspicion. These corporations are viewed as excellent devices to protect assets and to obtain unparalleled financial privacy. They can be created without producing a public record of the incorporating party's name, their shares omit any identifying information about shareholders, and a person with a controlling interest can direct corporate assets to purchase various property and goods, such as real estate and cars, with minimal risk of personal detection.
News that Castroneves may be allowed to rejoin the series was celebrated by Tony George, the founder and CEO of the Indy Racing League. "I'm happy for him and I hope it all continues to go well," George said. "I'm sure he feels tremendous relief after all he has been through. Hopefully he will be out here tomorrow on the track. The fact that Team Penske brought a third car to Long Beach shows that they've always had the foresight to prepare for things like this. This will be great for the series. Everyone has missed him. Everyone has been thinking of him and praying for him. I'm sure he will be happy to be back with all of his mates."
Castroneves' lawyers said it would be illogical for the court to proceed with the remaining conspiracy count, but a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office said no decision has been made on whether to re-try Castroneves and his sister.
"We are reviewing the matter to determine how best to proceed," said spokeswoman Alicia Valle.