Five sovereign citizens convicted of fraud in Tennessee

Five sovereign citizens, including a man previously convicted of vehicular assault, were convicted last week by a Knoxville, Tennessee jury of more than 200 counts of filing fraudulent liens against public officials.

The filing of such fraudulent liens and other so-called acts of paper terrorism are hallmarks of sovereign citizens, who generally believe state and federal laws and regulations don’t apply to them as “free men.”

But that didn’t stop authorities in Anderson County, Tennessee from bringing criminal charges against a group of sovereign citizens. 

Convicted last week were Lee Harold Cromwell, 68, of Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Austin Gary Cooper, 68, of Clinton, Tennessee; Christopher Alan Hauser, 51, of Del Rio, Tennessee; Ronald James Lyons, 52, of Newport, Tennessee; and James Michael Usinger, 64, of Greeneville, Tennessee.   

They were convicted of a combined total of 204 counts of filing fraudulent liens and forgery exceeding $250,000, according to Anderson County District Attorney General Dave Clark. He recused himself from the case because some of the liens were filed against him and his wife.

The defendants, scheduled to be sentenced next month, each face minimum sentences of 15 years in prison.

The convictions came just two weeks after another Tennessee man, Travis Reinking, 29, was arrested for allegedly fatally shooting four people at a Nashville Waffle House. Reinking also claimed he was a sovereign citizen.

Cromwell already is serving a 12-year prison term handed to him last year following his previous conviction for vehicular assault and three additional counts of aggravated assault.

On July 4, 2015, Cromwell drove his Dodge Ram truck in reverse through a crowd of about 200 people during a fireworks show at A. K. Bissell Park in Oak Ridge. His vehicle struck and killed one man and injured eight other people.

During the investigation of that incident, Cromwell and other sovereign citizen associates filed $137 million in liens against the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration, as well as personal property owned by investigators, prosecutors and the judge initially assigned the case.

Ultimately, criminal charges were brought against Cromwell and nine of his associates, making it one of the largest joint prosecutions of sovereign citizens ever undertaken in the United States.

The details of the case show how sovereign citizens operate, according to a report in the Knoxville News Sentinel.

For example, when police cited Lyons for selling liquor in his Newport, Tennessee, bar without a license, he responded by serving the police chief with a handwritten trespass notice.

When a Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper cited Cooper for driving without a license, he failed to show up in court, choosing instead to file bogus liens against Anderson County Sheriff Paul White and Judge Don Layton.

In some states, including Tennessee, liens can be filed online for only nominal filing fees. Removing the liens can take years and, in the meantime, affect individuals’ credit records.

The Anderson County prosecutor, as a victim himself, said authorities responded with criminal charges because “it became clear that this was a spreading tactic that [sovereign citizens] were using, and it became more than an isolated annoyance.”

“They were trying to stop the criminal justice system or hinder our ability to enforce the laws, and we needed to do something about that,” the prosecutor said.

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