The leadership of the “sovereign citizens” movement is populated with men who market a variety of generally nonsensical, and often illegal, schemes to avoid taxes, eliminate debts and extract money from the government. Many of these leaders specialize in the so-called “redemption” scam, a bizarre technique that supposedly allows participants to tap into huge amounts of cash that the government is thought to keep in their name. What follows are short profiles of a dozen of these leaders. The leaders’ websites are listed under their names.
Barton Albert Buhtz, 70
For years, Barton Buhtz, who styles himself “Barton Albert: Buhtz” in the peculiar punctuation of the sovereign citizens movement, promoted a redemption scheme that taught clients how to print fraudulent U.S. Treasury checks to pay their taxes, purchase real estate, and pay credit card and other bills. This was a variation of a scheme attempted by members of the Montana Freemen, a sovereign citizens group that was active in the 1990s. Buhtz promised clients that the fake checks were a legal means of accessing a secret Treasury account that the government has set up based on every American’s future earnings. While Buhtz claimed the phony checks can purchase anything, he personally only accepted cash as payment for his seminars and services. In 2007, Buhtz was convicted on multiple felony counts for helping clients pass a total of $3.8 million in phony checks, and in 2009 he was sentenced to 36 months in federal prison. He is set to be released in 2012. A number of his former clients are currently either in prison or fighting criminal charges.
Samuel Lynn Davis, 55
Samuel Lynn Davis, who goes by the nickname “I am: Sam,” is one of the more popular redemption seminar hosts in the country, and dozens of his seminar videos have been uploaded to YouTube.com. In addition to the websites listed above, Davis shares Web space with other key redemption gurus (including, until his death, Jerry Kane) at privateaudio.homestead.com. In his seminars, he boasts that he hasn’t filed a tax return since 1998 but doesn’t disclose that he currently has $53,000 in outstanding state and federal tax liens. Davis is one of the elders in the Guardians of the Free Republics, a sovereign group that claims to have recently set up “common-law courts” in all 50 states. On March 3, 2009, Davis and his common-law court partner “Rabbi” Shawn Rice were indicted in federal court on 31 counts of bank fraud and money laundering. Rice remained a fugitive at press time. Despite his upcoming trial in Las Vegas, Davis has advised his clients that everything is going as planned.
Ronald Delorme, 64
Ronald Delorme is the leader of one of the newest and most prolific sovereign schemes to hit the U.S., a phony Native American tribe called The Little Shell Pembina Band of North America. Delorme claims that an enormous land parcel totaling 53 million acres (most of North Dakota plus portions of South Dakota, Montana, and Manitoba) belongs to the sovereign tribe, and anyone who pays the fee can become a member. In effect, the tribe offers one-stop-shopping for the modern sovereign — freedom from taxes, a tribal license plate, a phony law license, even fake malpractice and automobile insurance. The faux tribe also advises members on how to pass counterfeit checks and avoid falling into the jurisdiction of the American courts. “Rabbi” Shawn Rice, fugitive co-defendant of Samuel Davis, is a member of this tribe. In 2007, a Little Shell subsidiary called Gold-Quest was charged with running a $27.9 million Ponzi scheme. The tribe responded by filing a $1.7 trillion lawsuit against the SEC.
Nature El Bey, 33
Taj Tarik Bey
Asbury Park, N.J.
“Lord Nobles” Taj Tarik Bey (real name and age unknown) and Nature El Bey (formerly known as Lee S. Crudup) are two of the leaders of a rapidly growing black nationalist religious movement called Moorish Science Temple of America — part of the larger and expanding phenomenon of black sovereign groups. The group considers itself sovereign in that it counsels followers to pay taxes to the temple, rather than to the IRS. Like other sovereigns, members do not carry state-issued driver’s licenses (but instead use temple identification cards) and, when charged with crimes, consider themselves to be outside the jurisdiction of any federal, state, or local court. The group markets itself primarily through booklets and videos posted on YouTube, and its sovereign schemes have been spreading rapidly in the last two or three years through the nation’s urban neighborhoods and prison system.
Roger Elvick, 71
In the 1980s, Roger Elvick was the first promoter to effectively distribute a redemption scheme to an eager and desperate audience of Midwest farmers, and he is generally acknowledged as the founding father of the modern redemption movement. While phony Federal Reserve checks and similar programs had been used earlier by far-right promoters Tupper Saussy and Conrad LeBeau, Elvick and the late white supremacist leader William Potter Gale were the first to dress up the scam with the legalistic terminology that now characterizes the sovereign citizens movement and sovereign redemption techniques. As a result of issuing such checks, Elvick spent seven years in the 1990s in federal prison, where he further fleshed out his scheme. In 2003, he was arrested again by the state of Ohio and charged with forgery, extortion, and corruption. The judge found him mentally unfit to stand trial, and he spent several months in a psychiatric institution before pleading guilty to the state charges. Elvick was released from prison in September 2007.
Kurt F. Johnson, 47
Dale Scott Heineman, 50
Union City, Calif.
In just a few short years, Kurt Johnson and Dale Scott Heineman grew a tiny redemption-based debt elimination practice into the largest mortgage-elimination firm in the country, the Dorean Group, with thousands of clients in at least 35 states. They promised followers who were about to lose their homes to foreclosure that they could own the home free and clear by simply transferring the property to a trust controlled by the Dorean Group. Dorean would then file a fake grant deed with the county recorder and in the short time when it appeared in the record that the home was debt-free, the client would apply for a new loan and split the proceeds with promoters. Johnson, Heineman and four other salespeople in their thriving company were convicted on multiple felony counts in 2007. Johnson is currently serving a 25-year sentence in federal prison, while Heineman is serving 21 years.
David Wynn Miller, 61
A former tool-and-die maker, the man who writes his name as “:David-Wynn: Miller” — or, as he amusingly says it verbally, “David hyphen Wynn full colon Miller” — came up with his “truth language” scheme as a result of a frustrating court experience in 1988, when he was going through a divorce. In short, all truth language sentences used in court filings must begin with the preposition “for,” contain at least 13 words, and use more nouns than verbs to be effective (he has claimed that only nouns have legal authority). David Wynn Miller considers himself a “Plenipotentiary Judge” in the Unity States of the World, and has named himself as the King of Hawaii, a feat he claims he accomplished when he converted Hawaii into a verb. Needless to say, Full Colon Miller’s clients have fared poorly in both civil and criminal courts, and at least one client has been required to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. Miller is one of the few sovereign gurus that can say he has clients in four different countries currently serving prison sentences. Despite these failures, Miller’s exotic punctuation scheme is rapidly growing.