A Spanaway man is among four people who were convicted this month in federal court of a variety of crimes as part of the so-called “sovereign citizen” movement.
Juries at U.S. District Court in Tacoma issued guilty verdicts this month against Kenneth Wayne Leaming, 57, of Spanaway, David Carroll Stephenson of Tacoma, and Raymond L. Jarlik Bell and Ute C. Jarlik Bell. Leaming was convicted of filing false liens against federal officials, harboring federal fugitives and being a felon in possession of firearms; Stephenson also was convicted of filing false liens against a federal authority; and the Bells, who are married, were convicted of of filing false claims. Raymond Bell also was found guilty of filing false tax returns, mail fraud and obstruction of obstruction of justice.
Sentencing is pending.
According to court records, law enforcement authorities were investigating an ongoing tax fraud scheme involving the Bells when their attention was also drawn to Leaming and Stephenson, who already had federal criminal convictions. The Bell investigation centered on the filing of false tax returns. In 2006, the couple obtained a tax refund in excess of $30,000 using a scheme known as OID, officials said. Six others who were advised by Raymond Bell also received fraudulent tax refunds, including one woman who received more than $590,000.
“There are people out there peddling ideas that are the modern equivalent of snake oil. The notion that there is a secret way to get the government to pay you money that you are not entitled to is just plain wrong. Our tax laws are public record, and people who file false claims and sell that idea to others will be held accountable for their deceit,” said Kenneth J. Hines, special-agent-in-charge of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) criminal investigations in the Pacific Northwest.
Leaming became implicated when investigators with a warrant searched his home in Spanaway Nov. 21, 2011 and found six firearms. Leaming was prohibited from possessing firearms because of a prior felony conviction of operating an aircraft without a pilot’s license. Additionally, investigators determined that two wanted federal fugitives from Arkansas had been living with Leaming in his home, and that Stephenson, who was an inmate at the time in an Arizona federal prison, had been conspiring to file liens against various federal officials, including the Arizona prison warden and the head of the federal Bureau of Prisons.
Members of the sovereign citizen movement claim state and federal governments are illegitimate. Members of the group often drive without state-required licenses, either for their vehicles or themselves. When contacted by local police, members of the group often bombard police officers, judges, mayors and other local government officials with frivolous liens, false claims, and sometimes threats of violence, federal authorities said.
Two other sovereign citizen defendants have been sent to prison for their criminal conduct. David Russell Myrland was sentenced in 2011 to 40 months for making threats against elected officials in Kirkland, and in 2012, Timothy Garrison was sentenced to 42 months for assisting in the filing of false tax returns.
“The right to criticize our government is one of the most cherished rights. But this liberty does not include the right to commit crimes,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan. “These defendants repeatedly broke the law with frauds aimed at taxpayers and public servants.”
The cases were investigated by five federal agencies – the IRS, the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Fireamrs, the Federal Protective Service and the U.S. Marshal Service.