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Declaring yourself a “sovereign citizen” exempt from government authority and tax obligations must be something of a rush – until that government decides to slap handcuffs on you.
Consider the case of Marshall Edwin Home, 81, a self-described multibillionaire and dispenser of highly questionable financial advice who on March 16 filed to run for mayor of Tucson, Ariz. Evidently relying on “sovereign” rationale, Home – on the very same day he declared himself a mayoral candidate – filed documents in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court seeking to place the United States itself into bankruptcy, asserting that he personally had a $3 billion claim against the federal government. (Home withdrew from the mayoral race in June.)
The government doesn’t look too kindly on phony bankruptcy claims. On July 1, Home was arrested and charged with two counts of making false claims in bankruptcy. Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
According to the government’s press release, Home operated the “Individual Rights Party; Mortgage Rescue Service,” through which he would charge clients $500 to “make the foreclosure process stop.” The government alleges that on his website Home told clients that their property “would become part of his ‘larger overall bankruptcy liquidation.’” That means, according to the federal complaint, that “Home filed or caused to be filed 173 false claims against the United States … total[ing] over $2.5 trillion.” The criminal complaint is linked to two of those claims, one for $2.5 billion and another for $50 million.
“The anti-government paranoia of so-called ‘sovereign citizens’ becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when they use their false claims and fraudulent practices to rip off others,” U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke said in the press release.
Sovereign citizens generally believe they can remove themselves from the jurisdiction of state and federal government, so that they don’t need to pay taxes or use any form of government documentation, such as driver’s licenses or automobile license tags. Some sovereigns believe they can discharge debts by accessing secret accounts supposedly created by the government in their names at birth – accounts that, of course, don’t exist.
Among Home’s clients was John Apostolou, a Greek immigrant who rose from cook to owner of Giordano’s Pizza, a popular Chicago-based chain of 45 restaurants nationwide. During the course of 23 years, Apostolou’s various businesses amassed $45.5 million in bank debts and faced bankruptcy. Apostolou turned to Home for help and, apparently at Home’s direction, filed a series of legally bogus affidavits in court. One asserted that Apostolou and his wife, who co-owns the business, don’t recognize U.S. currency and are free of any legal constraints. Another sought to terminate Apostolou’s bankruptcy by alleging bank fraud and other misdeeds. In May, a clearly annoyed bankruptcy judge seized control of the restaurant chain from the Apostolous, placed it in the hands of a trustee, and barred Apostolou from setting foot in the establishment. Proceedings are still under way.
Though Apostolou claimed he didn’t read the documents Home directed him to file, as of mid-June he still believed Home could deliver him from financial ruin, even promising to give Home a share of the business should he regain control. Home filed papers with the bankruptcy court claiming to have a $150 million lien against Giordano’s – apparently part of a scheme to get the pizza chain back for the Apostolous. “My claim is solid, legal and secured,” Home told the Chicago Tribune at the time. “I will be in control of the business. You can count on it.”
About all Home can count on right now is that he is in a world of trouble.
With more than a dollop of irony, Home told the Tucson Weekly that he had entered the mayoral race because of “all the lies and the deceits. How about all the thievery? There doesn’t seem to be any integrity in the government.”
One might wonder about Home’s claim of being a multibillionaire. Could that merely be based on his $3 billion claim against the U.S. government? He wouldn’t go into details when pressed by the Tucson Weekly.
“That’s private,” Home told the newspaper. “I’ve been described as a multi-billionaire. We’ll leave it at that. Why? You can’t accept it at that?”