A court found James Timothy Turner used antigovernment ideology to peddle illegal debt- and tax- relief scams
Federal prosecutors opened the trial of one the nation’s most prominent “sovereign citizens” leaders by portraying him as nothing more than a con man who used antigovernment ideology to peddle illegal debt- and tax-relief scams to the financially troubled.
But James Timothy Turner, delivering his own opening statement at the trial that began Monday in Montgomery, Ala., cast himself as the victim. “I discovered things that big Washington government doesn’t want you know,” he said. “They’re trying to shut me up.”
Turner faces 10 tax charges, including conspiring to defraud the federal government, attempting to pay his own taxes with a fictitious financial instrument and attempting to obstruct an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) investigation. He faces up to 164 years in prison and large financial penalties if convicted on all charges.
Based in the southeast Alabama town of Ozark, Turner, 57, heads what may be the largest and most organized group of antigovernment sovereign citizens in the country – the Republic for the united States of America (RuSA).
Much of the testimony during the first day of Turner’s trial focused on financial schemes Turner taught during seminars across the nation from 2006 to 2010. Using what he called “Freedom Documents,” Turner claimed to be able to help clients absolve themselves of mortgage, tax or credit card debt. For as little as $50 for a few minutes of his time to well over $300 for a two-day seminar, Turner purported to expose the secrets of the legal and banking systems.
In reality, he was teaching his clients how to dupe unsuspecting bankers and court officers, federal prosecutor Justin Gelfand said. Turner and others would spend Saturday mornings around a color printer making dozens of fraudulent bank bonds to sell to clients. “They’re designed to look real enough to make the government accept them,” Gelfand said. “[But] they’re, in fact, worth nothing more than Monopoly money.”
According to the federal indictment handed down last September, Turner is accused of using a fictitious financial instrument, purportedly valued at $300 million, to pay his own taxes and to have assisted others who wanted to get out of paying their taxes. Those people included Thomas Frye, a 59-year-old pharmacist from Andalusia, Ala., who is serving a prison sentence for attempting to pay a $250,000 income tax debt with bonds Turner helped him create.
Frye testified on Monday that he met Turner in the parking lot of a Walmart in Enterprise, Ala., to pick up the bogus documents. It was there that the two affixed the documents with red thumb prints next to their signatures – a tell-tale sovereign tactic.
But shortly after Frye sent the bond to the IRS, he and his wife, Kathy, were indicted for conspiring to defraud the government. He was sentenced to six months in prison to be followed by six months of house arrest. Frye said that when he approached Turner to find out what went wrong, Turner said he “was sorry to hear that, and told us to hang in there.”
Most of the charges Turner now faces stem from his early days as a sovereign citizen, just as he was getting turned on to the ideology. Sovereigns generally believe that they – not judges, juries or police – get to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore. In recent years, sovereigns have clogged up courts with indecipherable filings, much like what Turner was teaching, and in some cases have lashed out violently against law enforcement officials, often during traffic stops.
Turner, however, went further than most sovereigns. In audio recordings gathered by undercover IRS agents that were played in court, he bragged of being better than others in peddling financial schemes and expressed his dreams of leading a nation of “the sovereign people.” In 2010, when Turner was part of a group called the Guardians for the free Republics (GFR), he sent letters to all 50 governors demanding they step down. The following year, he formed RuSA, which grew to have a presence in nearly every state, and proclaimed himself the president of a government-in-waiting that would rule the country after the U.S. government collapsed.
Despite all his bombast, prosecutors argued that Turner was nothing more than a huckster. “It was all about the money for Mr. Turner,” Gelfand said. “All about the fraud.”
More Related Stories
- If Alex Pareene was a cable news executive...
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
- UK officials: Radical Islam behind London attack
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- London machete attack could be linked to terrorism
- Conservative group blames military sexual assault on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal
- Lois Lerner, IRS disaster
- Donald Rumsfeld worried that marriage equality will lead to polygamy
- Experts: Fox News spying scandal a game-changer
- San Francisco Giant Jeremy Affeldt apologizes for homophobic past
- 9-year-old slams Rahm over Chicago schools
- Stockholm riots rage for third day
- Wall Street firm's "Golden Pitchbook" is totally sexist, full of lies
- Must-see morning clip: Toronto's eccentric and allegedly crack-smoking mayor
- Federal court strikes down Arizona abortion ban
- Jodi Arias: I deserve a second chance
- Oklahoma residents return home to pick up the pieces
- Florida man with connection to Tsarnaev killed by FBI
- FBI identifies 5 Benghazi suspects
- Here come the tornado truthers. Already
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11
Salon is proud to feature content from The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society.