Jury selection is scheduled to start today in the federal case of three Columbia-area men accused of running the $82 million "3 Hebrew Boys" investment scheme.
The men are accused of luring at least 7,000 investors from two dozen states, including many from military bases, with promises of returns up to 500 percent, authorities said.
The men told investors the money would go into foreign currency exchange markets. Instead, the group's leaders are accused of investing less than $40,000 and going on shopping sprees, authorities said.
Their purchases included a $5 million jet, homes, condos and luxury stadium boxes, authorities said.
Accused of federal mail fraud charges: are Joseph Brunson of Hopkins; Timothy McQueen of Blythewood; and Tony Pough of Columbia.
The trio has denied any wrongdoing and said at rallies their work is faith-based and does not fall under securities laws.
On Monday, the three men, on their own, filed an answer to the indictment that said the government's case is fraudulent because they are not citizens of the country.
Instead, they are ancestors of people who lived in what's now the United State before the European colonists arrived.
The men also said since they have not damaged the plaintiff in the case, the United States of America, federal prosecutors have "failed in their duties" to protect the constitution.
They also accuse the U.S. attorney's office in South Carolina of 83 "unlawful actions," including racketeering, armed assault, theft of public funds, treason and failing to prevent apartheid and genocide. The actions are punishable with fines from $250,000 to $2 million each, they wrote.
"We Declare the vicious lies, fraudulent accusations, and unlawful assertions made by the invading parties on Ancestral lands to be without any merit," they wrote.
They said they sent copies of the filing to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
In the meantime Monday, attorneys assigned to Pough and McQueen asked for the case to be dismissed.
Efforts to reach the men Monday were unsuccessful. Attorneys for Pough and McQueen as well as federal prosecutors declined comment.
It's not unusual for the men to file motions saying that U.S. law does not apply to them. Last year, they filed a counterclaim against the government asking for $1 trillion or 1 billion ounces of ".999 percent silver," whichever is greater. A prosecutor called the filing "nonsensical."
Just last month, however, Brunson - who underwent a court-ordered 45-day mental evaluation last year - apologized to prosecutors and the judge in separate letters.
"Please forgive me for any inconvenience or offense I may have caused you," Brunson wrote to Federal District Judge Margaret Seymour. "I consider you an honorable person. It is clear that you are a fine judge and public servant and I have erred. I only have two words for my misconduct, 'FORGIVE ME.' "
Three days before the apology, however, Brunson petitioned to fire his attorney.
The men were first arrested by state officials in 2007 for selling unregistered securities. They were indicted on federal charges a year later.
They could get up to 20 years in prison if convicted on 35 federal counts of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
They also face up to 20 years on state charges of securities fraud, failure to file state income tax returns and selling unregistered securities. The state cases are expected to follow the federal trial.
Authorities said last year they hope to return about $18 million recovered in bank accounts to investors of the firms known as 3 Hebrew Boys and Capital Consortium Group.
More money has been raised by selling some items seized from the accused and their companies: a private jet, three stadium luxury boxes in Atlanta and Charlotte and 17 vehicles - including a Mercedes and a BMW, according to the Web site for the court-appointed receiver.
The receiver is still trying to sell two Atlanta condos, two homes near Walt Disney World, a motorcoach and stock in a Columbia bank worth more than $2 million last year.