Winston Shrout spent years defying the federal government as one of the country’s most high-profile sovereign citizens and tax dodgers.
His latest act has made him a fugitive for the last six weeks.
Shrout, a sovereign citizen who doesn’t recognize the authority of the U.S. government, didn’t show up on March 4 when he was due to report to a federal prison in Sheridan, Ore. A federal judge issued a warrant for the 70-year-old anti-government activist’s arrest. As of April 22, Shrout, with a Hillsboro, Ore., address, had not been arrested and the Bureau of Prisons, on its website, listed him as not in custody.
Shrout faces 10 years in prison after being convicted of issuing fake financial documents to banks and the U.S Treasury. He also didn’t file tax returns from 2009 to 2014. Shrout’s lawyers, through motions, delayed his prison report date at least three times before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered him in to begin serving prison time.
A jury convicted Shrout in 2017 of making and issuing hundreds of fake "International Bills of Exchange'' – a type of promissory note used in international trade – for himself and others. Shrout claimed the bills were valued at more than $100 trillion, an assertion that wasn’t true, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors presented evidence at trial that, for five years ending in 2014, Shrout had more than $500,000 in gross income, including pension payments, speaking fees from seminars, money taken in from the sale of DVDs, and other merchandise he sold. Shrout also received payments through his business, Winston Shrout Solutions in Commerce, which authorities say counseled clients on how to avoid paying taxes. Oregonlive.com reported that at trial, Shrout told jurors he didn’t pay taxes on any of the income.
"So I stopped paying income tax, and I stopped filing for income tax returns. That's been well over 20 years ago,” Shrout said during his trial, according to The Oregonian.
In 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center identified Shrout as one of the 12 most-prominent leaders of the “sovereign citizen” movement, a bigwig among those who sold phony, illegal and sometimes nonsensical schemes to avoid taxes, eliminate debts, and extract money from the government.
Shrout has an online following, with podcasts giving time to him and his cases, and Facebook pages pitching his innocence.
The website for Shrout’s consulting business was last online in Aug. 26, 2018, according to the Internet Archive website. That was four months after Shrout’s attorneys claimed he was mentally incompetent to face a sentencing hearing. U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones rejected that claim and sentenced Shrout in October 2018.
Shrout tried multiple times to stay out of prison, with his attorney saying he wasn’t a danger to the community. Jones, in a Jan. 30 order, concluded otherwise.
“If he remains on release, he may well continue his illicit efforts,” Jones wrote.
Jones noted that, even after being convicted, Shrout pushed his seminars and told followers he’d be back in action once the government changed.
Screenshot from YouTube