For three decades, Irwin Schiff has been running a high-stakes game out of his home office in Las Vegas, publishing books, advertising lectures and pushing Web sites advising his fellow Americans to stiff the federal government by paying no taxes.
Like many tax protesters, Schiff claims that for all the federal tax law on the books, it nowhere specifies that citizens are required to pay up. Schiff, touting his consulting services on a militia Web site in July, claimed that he hadn't paid a penny in "over 15 years" and that "the government has done nothing about it."
Like many of Schiff's claims, that one's a bit dicey. Imprisoned twice on tax charges since 1978, Schiff had just been slapped down again in June, when federal Judge Lloyd D. George banned him from peddling his latest book, The Federal Mafia: How It Illegally Imposes and Unlawfully Collects Income Taxes.
Schiff was also ordered to stop promoting his "zero tax return," which he says lets anybody legally list no income and pay no taxes. The IRS says at least 5,100 zero returns have been filed in recent years, costing the government $51 million.
Schiff, who won an temporary stay in September preventing the injunction from going into effect, plans to keep pursuing appeals. "The government has just thrown the First Amendment out the window," he told The Associated Press, "and if anybody can't see that, they should be declared legally blind."
While Schiff has cards left to play, the game is up for some of his co-religionists. In July, a federal jury in Denver sent James Cleaver to prison for taking his tax protest a bit further than usual — setting fire to an IRS office as part of an antigovernment plot.
In September, multiple tax-evasion charges were filed against George "Nick" Jesson, a former California gubernatorial candidate and founding member of the We the People Foundation for Constitutional Education.
And in West Palm Beach, Fla., well-known golf course designer Ted McAnlis was sentenced to 10 years for evading more than $1.3 million in federal taxes. McAnlis, who echoed Schiff in arguing that Americans do not have to pay taxes, used every trick in the book to keep the IRS away from his money: "common-law" trusts, a sham church, false Social Security numbers and a Bahamian bank account.
Representing himself at trial, McAnlis informed the court that Social Security numbers are the mark of the devil.