Leader of Anti-Government Group Found Guilty
By Luis Cabrera
On Tuesday, July 24, 2012, Shawn Rice, the leader of an anti-government organization called “Sovereign Citizens United,” was convicted in federal court of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering in a 1.3 million-dollar scheme. During last week’s brief trial in Las Vegas, Rice chose to act as his own legal counsel and argued that U.S. District Judge James Mahan had no authority over him. Members of the group believe they are not subject to government jurisdiction and declare themselves exempt from taxes.
Rice, who is a self-proclaimed rabbi and lawyer, waived his right to a jury, opting instead to argue his defense before the federal judge. He alleged he was entrapped in the case and had no predisposition to become involved in the conspiracy. “I have no history of doing anything like this,” he told Judge Mahan. However, his defense did hold up in court, and the only witness he summoned had legal trouble of his own. Thomas Schaults, 58, was put in handcuffs after leaving the stand for the defense in a botched attempt to offer his testimony, when police discovered he had two outstanding traffic tickets.
Rice tried to persuade the judge to allowing Schaults to testify but was rebuffed. Soon after, when Rice tried to lecture the court about his organization, Judge Mahan called the arguments “gibberish” and “gobbledygook.” “Whatever you are going to say must be relevant,” Mahan said, “we are not here to listen to somebody’s opinion.”
Mr. Rice was also found guilty on four other counts of failure to appear in court. The 49-year-old had been on the run from federal investigators for almost two years and was finally apprehended in late 2011 after a ten-hour armed standoff with FBI agents. He is now in custody and awaiting sentence after his conviction in the trial. U.S Attorney Daniel Bogden said Mr. Rice could face decades in prison, plus millions in fines for the money laundering and conspiracy charges.
Samuel Davis, another leader in the anti-government group who was named as a co-defendant in the case, is still on the loose. Davis and Rice were both indicted by a federal jury in March of 2009 but federal authorities have not located Davis, and he is considered a fugitive. Shawn Rice was captured last December at his house in Seligman, AZ, after 654 days on the run.
The investigation began in 2006, when FBI undercover agent Mark Aysta first infiltrated the group posing as a corrupt financier. Aysta was assigned to the Southern Nevada Joint Terrorist Task Force at the time. During the course of the operation, Rice and Davis wired the money received to different bank accounts outside of Nevada, and then returned the cash to the undercover agents minus the fees agreed upon in the scheme.
Several law-enforcement agencies including local FBI branches and the Henderson Police Department participated in the investigation of the sovereign citizens group. The rebellious organization advocates for citizens to declare their sovereignty and exclude themselves from government rules. The group at one time operated out of a local print shop in Las Vegas and it is believed to have thousands of followers nationwide.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Damn called the movement “extreme,” and “embedded in conspiracy theories” with “irrational interpretations of the law.” Damn added the Sovereign Citizens widely use forged documents and “fraudulent checks and money orders.” During the trial, Rice had no respect for the law, the prosecutor added, and appeared to have a “disdain for the federal judiciary.”
“He was ready to do this” Judge James Mahan concluded in reaching the guilty conviction. “He came in a state of mind” to commit the crime, Mahan finalized, referring to the dealings of Rice with undercover FBI agents who posed as shady businessmen. The federal judge said the government had proved its case.
Sentencing for Rice is scheduled for October 24th.