A Columbia man will raise a “sovereign citizen” defense when he goes on trial this week in U.S. District Court for not paying his taxes, arguing the government cannot make him pay taxes.
So-called sovereign citizens say the federal and state governments have no authority and are operating illegally. They think they — not judges or juries or police — should decide which laws to obey, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Ronald Allen Wright, who operated a debt-relief business called Money Solutions on Garners Ferry Road, “engaged in various discredited tax defier tactics” that are illegal, according to an indictment in the case.
Those tactics included Wright using the numbers of a closed bank account to accept payments from clients to submit “fraudulent documents ... in an effort to fraudulently satisfy debt,” the indictment said.
Prospective jurors in the case have been asked “have you, any member of your family, or a close business or social associate ever been a member of any so-called ‘sovereign citizens’ group?” Another question asks: “Do any of you believe the income tax laws of the United States are unconstitutional?”
Wright’s court-appointed attorney, Aimee Zmroczek, declined comment Monday.
Wright has a record of not paying taxes, according to court records.
Between 2010 and 2014, the S.C. Department of Revenue filed liens against Wright for his “refusal to turn over state sales taxes.”
Agents from the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service are expected to testify at the trial, which is scheduled to begin Tuesday or Wednesday and last the rest of the week.
At the last major “sovereign citizen” case tried in Columbia, a jury took only 90 minutes in 2015 to find five defendants guilty of filing false tax returns, stealing about $2 million from the IRS and attempting to steal $12 million more. In that trial, the defendants testified their belief system allowed them to file false tax returns.
In that case, U.S. District Court Judge Mary Lewis handed down sentences ranging from seven years to 10 years in prison.
Lewis also is the judge in Wright’s case. Assistant U.S. Attorney DeWayne Pearson is prosecutor.
Many sovereign citizens also say the federal government has a secret stash of money that is accessible only to certain citizens who have learned how to apply for – and get – sizable tax refunds.
Sovereign citizens have no formal organization. Instead, they coalesce around a variety of local leaders, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.