Castroneves says he didn't evade taxes

MIAMI -- Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and "Dancing With The Stars" winner Helio Castroneves predicted Thursday he will be acquitted of federal tax evasion charges and suggested the case against him should never have been brought.

"They are trying to show something that doesn't exist," Castroneves said after a hearing on pretrial motions.

Trial is set to begin March 2 for Castroneves, his sister Katiucia "Kati" Castroneves and Michigan attorney Alan Miller on charges they schemed to hide about $5.5 million in income from the Internal Revenue Service. Each of the seven counts in the indictment carries a potential 5-year prison sentence.

"Kati and I are innocent," said Castroneves, whose main defense is that he relied on the advice of lawyers and experts to handle his finances.

One of those lawyers was Miller, a former professional football player who is represented by high-profile Washington attorney Robert Bennett. Miller, who has pleaded innocent, did not attend Thursday's hearing. But Bennett also questioned the government's case, saying it should have been handled as a civil dispute rather than a criminal indictment.

"There is no way that Alan Miller, or Mr. Castroneves, could have felt they were violating the law," Bennett said.

Prosecutors said they have ample evidence showing the opposite.

"This is something Mr. Miller and Mr. Castroneves were aware of," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Dwyer.

Castroneves, a 33-year-old native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the others are accused of setting up shell corporations and offshore bank accounts to conceal income generated by Penske Racing Inc. and Brazilian firm Coimex International S.A. They are charged with conspiracy and six counts of tax evasion between 1999 and 2004.

At Thursday's hearing, U.S. District Judge Donald Graham rejected motions by Miller to dismiss some of the counts and also allow him to stand trial separately. Another hearing is scheduled Monday for a motion by Castroneves and his sister to dismiss three tax evasion counts because the six-year statute of limitations may have expired.

With the four-week trial set to begin in early March, Pensky Racing has already temporarily replaced Castroneves with Australian driver Will Power. The new Indy Racing League season begins April 5.

Castroneves won the Indy 500 in 2001 and 2002 and TV's "Dancing With the Stars" competition in 2007 with partner Julianne Hough.