Arizona Sues Minuteman Group Leader, Alleging Property-Tax Scam

The leaders of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, the largest and richest border vigilante organization in the United States, have long been accused of scamming donors and members with shady fundraising practices. These practices included the supposedly “Israeli-style” border fence fundraising campaign, in which the MCDC solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund the construction of a high-tech security barrier that turned out to be nothing more than a barbed wire cattle fence.

Now the president of the MCDC, Carmen Mercer, has been called out by her state’s chief prosecutor for allegedly participating in a mail fraud conspiracy.

Last Friday, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard filed a lawsuit against Mercer and the President and CEO of Property Tax Review Board Inc., a Granada Hills, Calif., company that in recent weeks mailed thousands of deceptively official-looking letters to Arizona homeowners soliciting $189 in exchange for a “property-tax-assessment analysis.”

According to Goddard, the letters were designed and written in a way intended to deceive recipients into thinking the letters were official government communications from their county assessor’s office. Goddard said his office had received hundreds of calls about the letters, including complaints from Arizona’s 15 county assessors, whose offices were likewise inundated with calls.

The scam letters directed residents to mail their checks to a post office box in Tombstone, Ariz., that belongs to Mercer. A longtime crony of MCDC founder Chris Simcox, Mercer assumed top leadership of the organization earlier this year after Simcox resigned to focus on his political aspirations.

A statement released by Goddard quotes Pete Zegarac, the head inspector from the Phoenix Division of the Postal Inspection Service, asserting that, "This scheme was especially insidious because the deadline to appeal to have your property taxes reduced for 2009 has passed. There was no way the company could fulfill their claims."

Goddard said Mercer has now turned over the post office box to U.S. postal inspectors and has surrendered the more than 1,000 responses she received. She reportedly told investigators that a friend asked her to open the post office box and she had no idea what it was being used for.

The same day he filed the lawsuit, Goddard obtained a temporary restraining order requiring Property Tax Review Board Inc. to immediately cease all business operations in Arizona.

News of Mercer’s alleged role in the property-tax scam broke amidst an already tumultuous month for the MCDC. On Aug. 1., MCDC vice-president Al Garza announced he was resigning to head up a new “Patriot” group. He was doing so, he said, because MCDC “is now on a path that I cannot endorse.”