A federal judge in Seattle had a short, simple message for a 70-year-old “sovereign citizen” accountant who persuaded other antigovernment activists to file fraudulent tax returns that called for refunds equal to their personal debts.
The tax fraud cost the government $700,000 in erroneous payments. For his work, Bell received a 10 percent cut of the refunds paid to others and a flat fee for each bogus return he filed. He also received a fraudulent refund on his own taxes of approximately $35,000.
“Your scheme … is fraud at its core,” U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton told Raymond Leo Jarlik Bell. “You are hurting people intentionally, regardless of your adherence to [your beliefs].”
The judge also had another message for Bell at the hearing last Friday: He ordered him to spend 97 months in federal prison to be followed by three years of supervised released and to pay $705,276 in restitution.
Bell assisted at least eight people in seeking fraudulent tax refunds of more than $3 million. The scheme relied on a bogus use of 1099-OID forms to claim refunds to which the taxpayer was not entitled.
Others involved in the scheme have already been convicted. A major federal investigation involving the FBI, the IRS and U.S. Marshals Service led to the 2011 arrests of several members of a sovereign citizen group in Western Washington. Those arrested and convicted included David Russell Myrland, prosecuted for making interstate threats and sentenced to 40 months in prison; Timothy Garrison, prosecuted for various tax offenses and sentenced to 42 months; Kenneth Wayne Leaming, prosecuted for false liens, harboring a fugitive and firearms offenses, sentenced to 97 months; and David Carroll Stephenson, prosecuted for false lien offenses, sentenced to 120 months.
Bell and others also were involved in the “County Rangers,” described by investigators as the group’s “armed enforcement wing.”
Even after his arrest two years ago, Bell continued filing what prosecutors say are “frivolous and nonsensical” legal documents from his jail cell. Prosecutors describe him as a “determined, persistent offender who does not believe federal or state laws apply to him” and who shows no remorse.
Bell was convicted in March by a jury in the Western District of Washington of 24 criminal charges, including five counts of presenting false claims, 15 counts of assisting in the filing of a false tax return; one count of criminal contempt and three counts of mail fraud.
The criminal case was not Bell’s first run-in with the IRS. In 2004, the government filed a civil complaint alleging that he had engaged in promoting an abusive tax evasion scheme involving, among other things, the creation of sham trusts.
Less than three years after being ordered by a federal judge to stop promoting tax fraud schemes, Bell began to recruit participants in a new sovereign citizen fraud near his home in Yelm, Wash., and at seminars in Hawaii, California and Arizona.
The defendant’s motivation for this crime was two-pronged, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Diggs told the court. “First, greed played a central role,” the prosecutor said. “The defendant wanted something for nothing. Second, [his] motivation was ideological.”
“To this day, the defendant steadfastly refuses to acknowledge or accept the laws of this country, including but not limited to, its tax laws,” Diggs said. “His scheme embodied this ideology.”
“Bell promoted this scheme all the while knowing, beyond a shadow of a
doubt, that it was illegal,” Diggs said. The scheme, the prosecutor said, “was nonsensical in that it purported to allow taxpayers to receive refunds for all of their debts, and its promoter, of all people, could hardly have believed it to be legitimate.”
Evidence at his trial showed that Bell had received numerous IRS warnings and had downloaded IRS publications describing the scheme as illegal. He also received numerous “frivolous filing” warning letters from the IRS.
“The defendant took all of these notices as a sign to redouble his efforts to defraud the IRS,” Diggs said. Since his convictions, Bell has filed various notices of default against federal prosecutors in addition to “other incomprehensible and/or nonsensical filings.”