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A Louisiana man described as the "brains" behind an alleged sovereign citizenship scheme that attempted to saddle state court judges and other authorities with billion-dollar debt claims will remain jailed in Utah until his trial.
Robert Clifton Tanner, 44, denied being aligned with the sovereign citizen movement during a detention hearing Tuesday, but U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Paul Warner decided to detain Tanner because of his pronouncements that armed militia men would issue warrants to state, court and law personnel and order them held in a Louisiana prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Huber argued for Tanner's detention, saying he does not recognize the authority of so-called "inferior" courts of the United States. Tanner also threatened to file paper liens against U.S. Marshals in Utah and Tennessee, Huber said. After being arrested in Louisiana, Tanner refused to identify himself in court and had to be forced to provide fingerprints and a booking mug shot.
Benjamin Hamilton, an attorney appointed to assist Tanner, said his client was willing to "subject himself to the authority of this court" and denied making any threats.
Across the country, there are numerous court actions involving so-called anti-government sovereign citizens who claim they are answerable only to English common law and are not subject to taxation or other actions by the U.S. government. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimated in 2011 that there were 100,000 "hard core" sovereign citizens and another 200,000 dabblers. They've been described as engaging in "paper terrorism" due to liens and debt claims made to thwart civil and criminal actions. At least three states have passed laws making filing fraudulent liens against public servants a crime.
In Tanner's case, a federal indictment alleges he instructed Maria Melody Fuentes Cecil of Spanish Fork, Utah, how to file a "notice of expatriation" to declare herself a sovereign citizen in an attempt to exempt herself from various legal proceedings in state courts in Utah County. Each faces four counts of mail fraud.
This spring, Cecil sent certified letters to at least four judges and a commissioner demanding judgments be voided and property returned within three days or payment of either $3.2 billion or $804 billion. On June 8, Cecil also filed a "notice of international commercial claim in admiralty administrative remedy," signed by Tanner, with the Utah County Recorder's Office. The document made similar financial claims against the judges and commissioner, whom they claimed were in default for not responding to earlier demands. Tanner was listed as the "creditor secured party," while Cecil was listed as Tanner's "agent." Days later, they sent a second round of documents to the same individuals as well as individuals in the Utah County Sheriff's Office.
A cover later stated that the payment demand was a "mature International Commercial claim" against the individuals and had the "full force and effect from the Common Law Court from the State of Louisiana and Utah and must be acted upon." They also filed financial and property liens based on the false indebtedness claims,the indictment says, though Hamilton said no actual liens were put in place.
Cecil, 42, appeared before Magistrate Judge Dustin Pead on Sept. 4. She also is being detained until her trial, set for Nov. 5.
Attorney Sharon L. Preston, who is representing Cecil, said her client experienced a lot of stress and depression when she came under Tanner's influence. She faced juvenile court proceedings involving her children and had been charged with driving under the influence. Cecil had separated herself from Tanner and had "abandoned" belief in the sovereign citizen movement, Preston said. "She realizes she was getting bad advice."
Pead, describing the situation as more "sinister" than simply being misled, ordered Cecil to undergo a mental health evaluation. Huber said it would likely show she is competent.
"These are anti-government, tightly held beliefs," he said. "It's about hating the government and checking out. It's not delusional or anything like that."
While living in Hawaii in 2009, Tanner tried to block that state's effort to collect taxes and foreclose on property used by his church. He provides forms he used in that action in a series of blog posts, some of which identify him as a reverend with either the "Ecclesia of the First Born of Christ" or The Holy Chosen Baptist Church. He also claimed that without proof of "public hazard" insurance bonds, judges and police had no authority to enforce any state action against him.
In an Oct. 12, 2010, affidavit posted on his blog, Tanner declared the Hawaiian court a "public menace," declared all action against him void and said if his name was not removed from all state records all property held by court judges and employees and their partners would be forfeited to him and his church.
The sovereign-citizen movement
In September, a federal grand jury in Alabama charged James Timothy Turner, self-proclaimed president of the "Republic for the united States of America," with tax fraud and conspiracy after he failed to pay taxes or paid with fake financial documents. The indictment alleges he set up seminars across the country to teach participants how to file retaliatory liens against government officials and defraud the IRS using fictitious bonds to pay federal taxes.
On its website, the republic says its goals are to end government intrusions of all types, such as tax collections; vehicle, marriage and property licensing requirements; create a "corrected" money system; and "forgive all corporate actors who repent for the state-sponsored crimes against mankind." But most sovereigns operate in a decentralized manner with scattered local leaders.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the adherents hold anti-government views and believe "common law" principles have been abdicated, and legal, governmental and monetary systems corrupted. Some sovereigns have engaged in violence, the center says, shooting police officers during traffic stops and property disputes.