In the family of one of the antigovernment “sovereign citizen” movement’s most notorious ideologues, the apple seems to have fallen tragically close to the tree.
Jessica Gutierrez, the daughter of the late sovereign citizen Jerry Kane, was among 18 suspects charged by the Ohio attorney general in connection with a telemarketing scam that defrauded elderly victims out of millions of dollars. Victims were told over the phone that their properties, usually unused areas of deserts, swamps and other virtually worthless land, could be sold to “interested buyers” for as much as 15 times their true worth –– but only if the sellers first paid “closing costs” ranging from $500 to $16,000 to the scam artists.
Gutierrez was charged with telecommunications fraud and aggravated threat. If convicted, she faces up to 37 years in prison. At 26, she would join a few other criminals in her family.
Heather Michelle Kane, 32, Jerry’s oldest daughter, is serving a 13-year sentence for the attempted murder of a woman she found on an ex-boyfriend’s MySpace page. And prior to Jerry Kane’s own death on May 20, 2010, he had traveled around the country hosting seminars teaching people spurious schemes to avoid debt that are rooted in sovereign citizen ideology.
Kane and his son, Joe, were killed in a shootout with police after they murdered two police officers who pulled them over on an interstate in West Memphis, Ark. The killings ignited concern over the growing threat of sovereign citizens – a concern that led the FBI to characterize the movement as “domestic terrorist.”
In the aftermath of the shootout, Gutierrez presented herself as the family’s saving grace. Describing her father’s antigovernment beliefs as “crazy” and “cultish” to the Memphis-area ABC affiliate, she lamented being unable to protect her 16-year-old brother from their paranoid father’s grip. But most of all, she said, she felt for the slain officers’ orphans, especially as a mother with small children of her own.
“I can’t make sense of it,” she said. “Words can’t even express my grief.”
Apparently, her ability to empathize with the victims was less than genuine. The victims to her own, alleged scam included an 86-year-old woman with ovarian cancer who wanted to leave some money to her family. Once she paid the criminals $15,000, she was told that properties actually worth $2,347 could garner more than 100 times as much.