Wednesday, June 10, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Members of the anti-government sovereign citizens movement have a reputation for flooding the courts with frivolous paperwork, and that’s exactly what two of the movement’s leading ideologues are doing in their federal money laundering case.
“They have an endless bag of tricks,” said Mark Pitcavage, the national director of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League, which monitors extremist groups. “They either try to clog up the case, or they try to retaliate against people involved in the process. These guys are true believers. They’ll drag it out until the bitter end.”
In court documents last month, federal prosecutors said trial preparations were “not moving forward in the ordinary course” because of the legal strategies mounted by the defendants.
One of the defendants, Samuel Davis, for example, filed court papers disavowing his name, under which he was charged, and is now calling himself “I am: Sam.” Pitcavage says sovereign citizens often use this kind of tactic to slow down court cases.
The other defendant, Shawn Rice, has filed more than a dozen motions and other court papers, all of which have been rejected by a federal magistrate and ordered returned because Rice filed them without the knowledge of his court-appointed attorney, Michael Kimbrell.
U.S. District Judge James Mahan, who is presiding over the case, denied another motion Rice filed under seal after concluding there was nothing to Rice’s claims that his argument in the motion related to “financial national security.”
Court records show that as late as last month, Kimbrell had been unable to get in touch with Rice to prepare his defense in the money laundering case, which the government contends is the result of a three-year undercover investigation of the activities of the sovereign citizens movement. Kimbrell did not return phone calls from the Sun.
Asked why he hasn’t spoken with Kimbrell, Rice responded, “Did I hire him? I didn’t hire him.” Then he said, “Have a nice day” and hung up his cell phone.
Todd Leventhal, the court-appointed attorney for Davis, would not comment on his client’s name-change in court records.
But Leventhal described Davis as a “brilliant man,” saying he has a “fantastic” working relationship with him.
“I’m not here to stand in Mr. Davis’ way of filing motions he deems are legal and factual,” Leventhal said. “Until the judge says otherwise, it’s his case right now. I’m focused on making sure my client gets the fairest possible trial and that he’s found not guilty.”
In court papers, Davis says he does not consent to being called Samuel Davis and that he made a mistake during his initial court appearance in March by inadvertently failing to inform the court that “I am: Sam” is the authorized representative for that namesake.
Pitcavage said sovereign citizens like to “do all sorts of funny stuff” with their names in court, often using colons, semicolons and commas to separate their first and last names.
“They have theoretical reasons for doing this,” he said. “They contend the government indictments are not directed against them, but rather are directed against a fictitious entity.”
Pitcavage said he also isn’t surprised to see that one of the publicly appointed attorneys in the case is having trouble communicating with his client.
“Usually, they won’t accept court-appointed attorneys,” he said. “When they do, they want their attorneys to use the sovereign citizen strategy” to fight the case.
“They’re angry at the whole system,” he added. “But they often get just as angry at their own lawyers and look to retaliate against them, too.”
The money laundering case stems from an FBI-led investigation of the “Sovereign Peoples Court for the United States,” which held seminars and “moot courts” teaching a nationwide group of followers how to get out of their financial obligations. Sovereign citizens declare themselves above the government’s jurisdiction and not obligated to pay taxes.
Since the FBI raided the Sovereign People’s Court in March, the group has curtailed its activities here. No seminars have taken place and little new information has been posted on the group’s Web site. Davis, however, has launched an evening Internet radio broadcast, during which he fields questions about his sovereign citizens ideology.
Davis, who lives in Idaho, and Rice, a self-described lawyer and rabbi whose last known residence was in Arizona, are charged with laundering money for undercover FBI agents, some of which went through religious organizations run by Rice. Two other alleged leaders of the group, Harold Call and Jan Alan Lindsey, a former FBI agent, are facing separate criminal charges. Call is charged with weapons violations and Lindsey with tax evasion.
Federal prosecutors said in court papers that the combined cases involve 660 hours of secretly recorded conversations on 184 audio and videotapes and more than 46,000 pages of documents that FBI agents were working to turn over to the defense.
Together, Davis and Rice, who are set to stand trial Oct. 5, were picked up on 85 of the recordings, prosecutors said.