Actor Wesley Snipes has been sentenced to three years in prison for wilfully failing to file US income tax returns for the years 1999 to 2001.

Reuters reports that the 'Blade' star was convicted in February on three misdemeanour counts.

US District Judge William Terrell Hodges gave Snipes the maximum sentence, saying that it was important to create a deterrent against tax defiance.

The actor told the judge: "I am very sorry for my mistakes and errors. This will never happen again."

Prosecutors said that Snipes had earned over $38m since 1999 but had not paid any taxes or filed returns for the years 1999 to 2007 prior to last Thursday.

Snipes legal team tried to give the judge three envelopes with cheques totalling $5m but the judge and prosecutor said they could not accept the payments and they were collected by an Internal Revenue Service agent during the recess.

Prosecutors described the attempt to give the judge cheques as a "grandstanding move".

In a statement, Snipes described himself as an "idealist, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritual-seeking artist" and said he epitomised the colloquialism "mo' money, mo' problems".

The judge told Snipes that he would be contacted by prison officials about when his sentence would begin.

Snipes plans to appeal but prosecutors intend to oppose any request to allow him to stay out of prison while the appeal is pending.