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Federal prosecutors in Las Vegas have obtained the second conviction in a case involving two “sovereign citizen” extremists who laundered $1.3 million provided by undercover FBI agents investigating a network of sovereigns.
After a two-day nonjury trial that ended yesterday, Shawn Talbot Rice, 49, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and 13 counts of money laundering. He was also convicted on four separate counts of failure to appear in court.
Rice was taken into custody last Dec. 22 after a 10-hour standoff with FBI agents and local police in Seligman, Ariz. He had been on the run for two years after failing to appear in court for a hearing in which prosecutors hoped to revoke an order allowing him to act as his own attorney.
He could receive up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy and money-laundering counts when he is sentenced on Oct. 24. He could be sentenced to an additional 10 years for each failure-to-appear charge.
Rice’s co-defendant, Samuel Lynn Davis, 57, pleaded guilty to bank fraud and money laundering in March 2011 and apologized to Nevada U.S. District Judge James Mahan for his actions. The judge sentenced him in October to 57 months in prison and ordered him to pay $95,782 in restitution to the government.
Davis was allowed to remain free and “self-report” to a designated federal prison. But he failed to surrender to authorities last January to begin his sentence and is now a fugitive.
U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden told the Las Vegas Sun that the two defendants laundered the money through a nominee trust account controlled by Davis, who charged roughly $74,000 in fees, and through a religious organization run by Rice, who received about $22,000.
The money was provided by FBI agents who claimed the money came from stolen and forged bank checks.
Under the alias “I am: Sam” (whose odd punctuation follows conventions that sovereigns believe exempt them from government authority), Davis was one of the more popular promoters of the “redemption” scam, a bizarre sovereign citizen scheme that supposedly grants participants access to huge pools of cash the government keeps in their name. He was also an “elder” in the Guardians of the Free Republics, a sovereign group claiming to set up “common-law courts” in each state. Rice helped Davis run the Nevada “court” out of a Las Vegas print shop.
Rice, indicted in March 2009, had been free without bail since being released in July of that year after persuading the court to permit him to act as his own defense attorney. He used the opportunity to pelt the court with dozens of virtually incomprehensible sovereign citizen-style legal missives. One, filed on January 6, 2010, claimed to be from the “Office of the Embassy in Trust with the Most High Yahwey Taking Action to Redeem Equal Weights and Measures.”
Eventually, federal prosecutors became fed up with such antics and called for a hearing to revoke Rice’s power to serve as his own attorney. When he failed to show up, Mahan issued a warrant for his arrest.
Even as a fugitive, Rice continued to engage in “paper terrorism,” filing a spurious lawsuit last July against more than 80 defendants, including President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
During this week’s trial, Mahan dismissed Rice’s claim to have been the victim of “unscrupulous” federal agents and called the sovereign rhetoric Rice used in his defense “gobbledygook” and “gibberish.”
Sovereigns generally believe they are exempt from most taxes and laws. They are known, particularly, for financial scams and tax fraud.
“The sovereign movement has an extreme anti-government ideology, embedded in conspiracy theories, inaccurate history and irrational interpretations of the law,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Damm wrote in a trial memorandum.