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President of ‘Sovereign Citizens’ Group Convicted of Tax Crimes

A federal jury on Friday convicted James Timothy Turner, one of the nation’s most prominent antigovernment “sovereign citizens,” on 10 tax fraud charges stemming from seminars he held between 2007 and 2009 that purported to teach people how to tap into “secret” government accounts to pay their tax bills.

Turner, 57, of Ozark, Ala., gave a half-hearted wave as U.S. Marshals took him into custody after the guilty verdict was read today in Montgomery, Ala. He faces as many as 168 years in prison when he is sentenced in U.S. District Court this summer.

Turner was convicted of using a fictitious financial instrument, purportedly valued at $300 million, to pay his own taxes and of assisting others who wanted to get out of paying their taxes with similar “bonds” that he claimed would draw on government accounts.

Federal prosecutors spent three days making the case that Turner was nothing more than a con man who used the bizarre beliefs of sovereign citizens to concoct schemes to prey on the financially distraught. He charged hundreds of dollars for  seminars that taught them how to draft bogus financial instruments.

“He wants you to believe that he’s been cheated,” federal prosecutor Justin Gelfand said in closing arguments. “[But] Mr. Turner was the one who was cheating.”

Like most sovereigns, Turner considers the United States an illegitimate corporation posing as a government. He represented himself in the case, all the while insisting the government was trying to keep him from revealing what he had discovered.

“I discovered things that big Washington government doesn’t want you to know,” Turner said in his own opening statement. “They’re trying to shut me up.”

But he never outlined what those things were, and the jury noticed.

After about an hour of deliberation, the jury returned a guilty verdict on every count, including conspiracy to defraud the United States; six counts related to fake financial instruments; obstructing the Internal Revenue Service; and failing to file a tax return in 2009. Most of the charges stem from Turner’s early days as a sovereign citizen, when he started to adopt the movement’s ideology. Sovereigns generally believe they don’t have to pay taxes, register their vehicles or obey most laws.

The charges had nothing to do with Turner’s role as president of the Republic for the united States of America (RuSA), one of the largest and most organized sovereign groups in the country. His supporters, many of whom were in the courtroom as the verdict was read, insisted Turner was a “political prisoner” being held unlawfully. RuSA claims to have formed a shadow government that will rule America, with Turner as president, when the federal government collapses.

Vivian Gwin, a RuSA “senator” from South Carolina who had come to watch the trial, shook her head as Turner was led from the courtroom. “This is not about his bonds being unlawful.” she said. Then, somewhat defiantly, she added, “This is about him being the president of the Republic.”

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