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Video screenshot via UFOWatch

The New York Times brings us a completely batshit, absolutely true story about those sovereign citizen dudes and the amusing little schemes they use to rip off the US government -- which they don't believe exists -- for millions and millions and millions of dollars or even as much as a billion bucks from 1990 to 2013, according to one "conservative" estimate. The Times piece, by Ashley Powers, introduces us to one such fraudster, a UFO-holistic-healing-supergrifter named Sean David Morton, who's currently doing six years in federal prison after conviction on 51 assorted charges of very bad frauding. Needless to say, he's continuing to ask gullible fans for money from prison, so he can appeal his unjust conviction by the illegitimate federales he ripped off.

If you aren't familiar with sovereign citizens, LUCKY YOU. They have a whole range of fantastic beliefs that sometimes lead to violence. But even the ones who merely scam money rely on claims that at some point in the past -- either just after the Civil War or maybe with the establishment of the Federal Reserve or the creation of the income tax (or hell, all three) -- the Constitution and the legitimate US government were replaced by an evil corporation that literally owns all US citizens. In many versions of sovereign mythology, it's all a plot to enrich the Jews, too. But they also preach that if you invoke the proper pseudo-legal language magic, you can free yourself of all laws and also get money from the government (or any other sucker you target). And boy oh boy do they love frauding! Pay them enough money and they'll teach YOU to do fraud, too! Powers is careful to note that "Not all sovereigns are con men, but their belief system lends itself to deceit."


Sean Morton got his start on the nutty UFO conspiracy circuit, and was a charismatic enough salesman that he managed to get plenty of attention in the WoowooSphere, even landing guest hosting gigs on the late-night conspiracy radio show "Coast to Coast," not to mention a thriving business giving talks at UFO conventions and other fringe confabs. He was on Montel Williams even! Getting into sovereign citizen scamming seemed like a natural evolution following the 2008 financial crash, because hey, didn't everyone see how rich elites came out fine, so obviously you just needed to learn how everyday folks like YOU can game the system?

"Do you realize," read Mr. Morton's workshop description, "you are ALL considered 'Incompetent,' 'Wards of the State,' 'Residents' and the 'Chattel Property' of the US Federal government, until you declare your Emancipation? Learn all the secrets about how to get the government off your back and out of your life once and for all!!" One of these secrets was called the "bond process." By submitting the right set of papers, Mr. Morton said, you could wipe out your mortgage, tax bills and student loans.

One of the favorite tactics of SovCits is to take legitimate government documents like IRS forms and use them to file fake claims, like that Colorado guy who filed fake claims with the USDA in hopes of getting the government to buy him a bitchin' Camaro. And thanks in part to bureaucratic slowness (helped along in part by Tea Party efforts to gut IRS funding), the scams work, sometimes, just often enough to encourage more scamming:

Chronically underfunded and understaffed, I.R.S. investigators refer only about two dozen sovereign-scam cases, on average, for prosecution each year. The agency sometimes misses returns that should raise suspicion. For example, in 2016, the I.R.S. discovered a sizable redemption scheme — but only after processing 207 bogus returns and disbursing more than $43 million.

Morton himself parlayed his radio celebrity into a marriage to one of his biggest fans, a Utah woman named Melissa Thompson, who mostly supported him through her own business selling purebred Norwegian forest cats. (For all Morton's scamming, it was enough of a hit or miss proposition that the couple's main income came from her legit business, at least for a good part of the time.) Ms. Morton became one of his most devoted believers, and according to court documents (neither would talk to Powers for the story), she genuinely thought he was just the smartest man ever -- in fact, that was her unsuccessful defense when they were both prosecuted: She was just another victim, and only participated in his scams because she was in thrall to a genuine Svenjolly.

The piece looks at several of the other scammers -- and victims surrounding the Mortons, and points out that, at least until he got caught, he actually managed to get away with a few big hauls, like a fake securities scam (the SEC caught him) and filing fake tax claims in 2009:

Mr. Morton filed four years of returns — from 2005 to 2008 — and claimed nearly $4 million in refunds. His wife filed a 2007 return and claimed about $12,000. "I never, ever, ever in any of this thought that I was breaking a law," Mr. Morton later said. "I thought that this was the law." His faith was bolstered when, that April, he got a refund for one of his returns: a direct deposit to their Washington Mutual account of $480,322.55.

This is the point where Yr Editrix said, "Well now I'm just mad. Fuck the IRS for approving these refunds." Also, I'd add, fuck years of the IRS being demonized and stripped of regulatory agents by Republicans, too. Eventually, of course, they were caught, and Morton responded by filing more false claims, because now he had to pay the IRS back with SOMETHING. Didn't work that time.

Mr. Morton, OF COURSE, defended himself:

"I'm not a rapist, a thug, a war criminal," he said during his opening statement. "I didn't run a Nazi concentration camp and murder millions of children" [...]

During his closing argument [...] Mr. Morton told the jury about the Norwegian forest cats. Earlier in the week, he said, he and his wife tried to save a premature kitten. They stayed up late, swaddled her in cloth, fed her milk with an eye dropper. The kitten died anyway. Ask yourselves, he implored the jurors, "Do we send these nice people who care for kittens and raise cats to jail forever?"

NOT BABY DUCKS?!

Yup, if by "forever" you mean two years for her and six years for him, although first he skipped his sentencing hearing and went on the lam, where he continued to do interviews with wingnut YouTube "patriots." He got arrested after one of those not-as-secret as he thought interviews, and now he's insisting that Donald Trump will surely pardon him, in response to his heartfelt plea which he's sure Trump will get right on:

"It's because of my work in RADIO and TV INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM that DEEP STATE forces within the D.O.J. put my wife and I in prison for YEARS!" he wrote. Of course, he had a suggestion for how to correct this injustice: donate to his PayPal account.

As we like to say, go read the whole thing and wonder at the amazing times in which we live.

[NYT / ProPublica / Image: UFO Watch]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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