Two Members of the So-Called Sovereign Citizen Movement Sentenced to Long Prison Terms
Defendants Claim to be Tax and Law Experts, Damaging Victims and Ensarling Justice System
|U.S. Attorney’s Office May 24, 2013|
Two men who previously resided in Pierce County, Washington were sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma for their illegal actions associated with a militant anti-government group, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. Kenneth Wayne Leaming, 57, of Spanaway, Washington, was sentenced to eight years in prison for three counts of filing false liens against federal officials and one count of harboring federal fugitives and being a felon in possession of firearms. His co-conspirator, former Tacoma resident David Carroll Stephenson, 57, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for a single count of filing false liens against a federal official. Stephenson is already serving an eight year prison sentence for tax fraud. Both men were convicted at trial in March 2013. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton said Leaming had earned “every day” of the prison term. Leaming “flaunts authority, he harasses law abiding people who have an obligation to the people to serve.”
Judge Leighton imposed a 10-year sentence, above the guidelines range, on Stephenson, saying he “cannot, will not live his life without doing harm to others. He is the master manipulator, the puppeteer....He is in my mind a very dangerous man.”
“These defendants tried to mask their crimes with the cloak of free speech and beliefs,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. “They thought they were immune from the law or the justice system, but now their frauds aimed at taxpayers and public servants need to come to an end. A lengthy prison term is the best way to protect the public from their schemes.”
When investigators served a search warrant at Leaming’s Spanaway home on November 21, 2011, they 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. Finally, the search revealed that Leaming and 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.
The men identify themselves as members of the “Sovereign Citizen” movement. Sovereign Citizens profess a belief that both state and federal government entities are illegitimate. Members of this group often engaged in so-called “freedom driving,” i.e., driving about without state-required licenses, either for their vehicles or themselves. When contacted by local law enforcement, members of the group often bombard local officials (from the officer to local judges to mayors and other members of local government) with frivolous liens, false claims, and sometimes threats of violence. Many members of this same group had previously come to the attention of federal law enforcement for engaging in various fraudulent tax schemes, wire fraud schemes, and (occasionally) inappropriate communications with various members of federal law enforcement and the judiciary.
In asking for a 10-year sentence for both men, prosecutors wrote to the court that only a long prison term would protect the public. About Stephenson they wrote, “This is not the case of a defendant who continues to run afoul of the law because of a substance abuse addiction or a history of childhood abuse. Rather, this is a defendant who simply chooses to remain defiant, despite court after court telling him that he must stop and despite multiple stints in prison. At this point, removal from society is the only way in which the public can be kept safe from the defendant’s crimes.”
As for Leaming, prosecutors provided information to the court about his repeatedly holding himself out to victims as a lawyer who could solve their problems, when in fact his actions may have damaged their case. About the crimes from the March 2013, conviction prosecutors wrote, “Defendant’s possession of firearms is particularly disturbing in light of several facts. First is obviously his disdain for government. Second is his possession of various items of police equipment, including numerous badges, light bars, and a Crown Victoria sedan modified to appear to be a police vehicle. Last but not least is defendant’s repeated invocation of the shooting of government officials in Southern California by a disgruntled former police officer—which again appeared to be a veiled threat to engage in violence himself if he is prevented from pursuing his ‘petitions for redress,’” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.
Two other defendants active in the Sovereign Citizen movement have already been sentenced to prison for their criminal conduct. David Russell Myrland was sentenced in 2011 to 40 months in prison for making threats against elected officials in Kirkland, Washington. In 2012, Timothy Garrison was sentenced to 42 months in prison for assisting in the filing of false tax returns.
The cases were investigated by the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), ATF, the Federal Protective Service, and the U.S. Marshals Service.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Vince Lombardi and Thomas Woods.
Press contact for the U.S. Attorney’s Office is Emily Langlie at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@usdoj.gov.