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March 21, 2016 4

Winston Shrout: The Rise and Fall of a Sovereign Citizen Guru

Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors in Port­land, Ore­gon, obtained a 19-count grand jury indict­ment in mid-March against Win­ston Shrout, a Hills­boro, Ore­gon, res­i­dent and one of the most promi­nent sov­er­eign cit­i­zen gurus in the United States, a man whose videos and sem­i­nars have attracted thou­sands of peo­ple to the anti-government extrem­ist movement.

Winston Shrout

Win­ston Shrout

Shrout was charged with 13 counts of using fic­ti­tious finan­cial instru­ments in con­nec­tion with an alleged debt elim­i­na­tion scheme. Fic­ti­tious finan­cial instru­ments are bogus checks, money orders, or sim­i­lar doc­u­ments that pur­port to be pay­ments of money but are not in fact gen­uine. Since the early 1980s, sov­er­eign cit­i­zens have been fas­ci­nated with fic­ti­tious finan­cial instru­ments, using them for every­thing from escap­ing their own debts to per­pe­trat­ing major frauds and scams, espe­cially against indebted prop­erty own­ers. Pass­ing them became a fed­eral crime thanks to a law passed after the 1996 Mon­tana Freemen stand­off; the Freemen hav­ing been ener­getic pro­mot­ers of such bogus instruments.

Debt elim­i­na­tion schemes are also extremely com­mon within the sov­er­eign cit­i­zen move­ment; sov­er­eigns use their pseudo-legal lan­guage and con­cepts to con­vince vic­tims that, for a fee, their mort­gages or other debts can sim­ply be made to van­ish. Often, fic­ti­tious finan­cial instru­ments and debt elim­i­na­tion schemes go hand in hand.

The fed­eral indict­ment accuses Shrout of cre­at­ing and spread­ing more than 300 bogus “Inter­na­tional Bills of Exchange” and “Non-Negotiable Bills of Exchange,” instru­ments with a com­bined face value of over $100 tril­lion (but worth­less in fact). The indict­ment claims that Shrout used such instru­ments him­self and also mar­keted them as a way for oth­ers to pay off their debts. Shrout is also charged with 6 counts of will­ful fail­ure to file income tax returns.

The indict­ment is a super­sed­ing indict­ment, adding the fic­ti­tious instru­ment charges to the tax charges, which were orig­i­nally filed against Shrout in Decem­ber 2015. Since that orig­i­nal indict­ment, Shrout has declined to use an attorney—a com­mon tac­tic for sovereigns—and has defended him­self using sov­er­eign cit­i­zen fil­ings that, among other things, declare his refusal to con­sent to the juris­dic­tion of the fed­eral court or to be taxed by the IRS.

Shrout, 67, has been one of the most influ­en­tial lead­ers of the sov­er­eign cit­i­zen move­ment in the 21st cen­tury. Sov­er­eign cit­i­zens believe that, long ago, an evil con­spir­acy infil­trated and replaced the orig­i­nal “de jure” gov­ern­ment with an ille­git­i­mate, tyran­ni­cal “de facto” gov­ern­ment. They claim that the “de facto” gov­ern­ment has no author­ity or juris­dic­tion over them, which allows them to ratio­nal­ize ignor­ing or break­ing vir­tu­ally any tax, law, reg­u­la­tion, or court order. The move­ment is dom­i­nated by a coterie of gurus, the peo­ple who come up with the movement’s pseudo-legal theories—as well as its often-illegal tactics—and teach them to their followers.

Shrout grew up in Ken­tucky but resided in Utah for much of his life before finally mov­ing to Ore­gon. Shrout has said he is a col­lege grad­u­ate but worked var­i­ous blue-collar jobs such as car­pen­ter, welder, and con­struc­tion worker until 1998, when, as he put it, “as luck would have it I was able to retire.”

Fol­low­ing this early “retire­ment,” Shrout encoun­tered the sov­er­eign cit­i­zen move­ment at a time when it was enjoy­ing a burst of pop­u­lar­ity. This was due to a new com­pi­la­tion of sov­er­eign cit­i­zen the­o­ries and tac­tics, often referred to as “redemp­tion” or “straw man the­ory,” which swept through the move­ment in 1999 like a wild­fire and still remain quite pop­u­lar to this day. Long­time sov­er­eign cit­i­zen guru Roger Elvick came up with redemp­tion theory—acting on it would even­tu­ally land him in prison—and shared it with a group of dis­ci­ples who became gurus trav­el­ling the coun­try, hold­ing sem­i­nars and sell­ing man­u­als and videos explain­ing redemp­tion the­ory and its var­i­ous asso­ci­ated tac­tics. Many of those dis­ci­ples are now them­selves in fed­eral or state prison.

Shrout has at times seemed to imply that he learned redemp­tion the­ory from Roger Elvick, but Shrout’s ear­li­est sov­er­eign cit­i­zen fil­ings appear to date from 2000, by which time redemp­tion the­ory was already quite pop­u­lar in the move­ment. In August 2000, he filed a nota­rized doc­u­ment explaining—in sov­er­eign cit­i­zen pseudo-legalese—how he had refused to sign or accept a traf­fic cita­tion from a Wash­ing­ton County, Utah, sheriff’s deputy.

Two months later, Shrout filed his first bogus lien—a com­mon harass­ing tac­tic that sov­er­eigns use against per­ceived oppo­nents or ene­mies. Shrout filed a $1,340,000 lien dubbed an “Affi­davit of Oblig­a­tion” against Uni­fied Indus­tries, Inc., which is a cor­po­ra­tion that holds resources and busi­ness enter­prises asso­ci­ated with the Apos­tolic United Brethren (AUB), one of the major fun­da­men­tal­ist Mor­mon polyg­a­mist sects in Utah. The lien stemmed from some sort of dis­pute Shrout had with El Ran­cho Moto­qua, a sub­sidiary com­pany of Uni­fied Indus­tries estab­lished to cre­ate a polyg­a­mist com­mu­nity in south­ern Utah. In such com­mu­ni­ties, prop­er­ties are often not owned by indi­vid­ual busi­ness own­ers or res­i­dents but rather by a hold­ing com­pany or trust run by the sect. Shrout seems to have been per­mit­ted a res­i­dence in Moto­qua and came into con­flict with the polyg­a­mists run­ning the com­mu­nity. In the bogus lien, Shrout com­plained that he had been threat­ened with “removal” from his house and that he was “excluded from par­tic­i­pa­tion in the reli­gious cer­e­monies and usages” held inside a com­mu­nity building.

Was Shrout him­self an adher­ent of the polyg­a­mist AUB? It is not entirely clear from the lien doc­u­ment, though at one point Shrout refers to him­self “and sev­eral thou­sand other fun­da­men­tal­ist Mor­mons.” How­ever, non-adherents have some­times resided in AUB com­mu­ni­ties. Some adher­ents of polyg­a­mists sects have got­ten involved with the sov­er­eign cit­i­zen move­ment. Shrout’s step­daugh­ter, April Ramp­ton, was a res­i­dent of Moto­qua as late as 2012, before she her­self was con­victed in fed­eral court on nine counts of fil­ing false tax claims while engaged in a com­mon sov­er­eign cit­i­zen and tax protest scheme.

Before the end of 2000, Shrout filed a series of redemption-related doc­u­ments and he soon became a redemp­tion guru, teach­ing the the­ory to sov­er­eign audi­ences. In 2004, Shrout and Patri­cia Bekken formed an entity called Solu­tions in Com­merce to mar­ket sov­er­eign sem­i­nars and work­shops. Shrout proved to be a pop­u­lar speaker, with a folksy demeanor that he delib­er­ately played up, refer­ring to it once as “hill­billy shtick.” The debt elim­i­na­tion schemes that Shrout pro­moted were also pop­u­lar; one admir­ing extrem­ist in 2004 referred to Shrout as a “top dawg” among such promoters.

Shrout’s rep­u­ta­tion within the sov­er­eign cit­i­zen move­ment grew in the mid-2000s, but it was the social media rev­o­lu­tion that really helped pro­pel him to the top ranks of sov­er­eign gurus, as YouTube videos of some of his appear­ances and sem­i­nars began to cir­cu­late widely by 2008–2009, bring­ing him far greater atten­tion and pop­u­lar­ity. This same time period cor­re­sponded with the begin­nings of the great reces­sion and the mort­gage cri­sis, events that helped spawn a major resur­gence of the sov­er­eign cit­i­zen move­ment by cre­at­ing a large pool of angry and des­per­ate peo­ple who were poten­tial recruits.

Shrout held sem­i­nars across the coun­try but hardly lim­ited his activ­i­ties to the United States. In the 1990s, the sov­er­eign cit­i­zen move­ment had taken root in Canada, so Shrout spoke to atten­tive audi­ences in that nation—until Cana­dian author­i­ties finally pro­hib­ited him from enter­ing the coun­try. But Shrout found other inter­na­tional audi­ences, hold­ing sem­i­nars in Aus­tralia, New Zealand, and Great Britain, help­ing to bring the sov­er­eign cit­i­zen move­ment to all of those countries—to the dis­may of authorities.

More recently, Shrout expanded beyond strictly sov­er­eign notions to express him­self on UFOs and other “New Age” issues, claim­ing that in the early 2000s he and friends of his have been vis­ited by alien “Pleia­di­ans.” He’s made ref­er­ences to every­thing from incar­nated fairies to “Hol­low Earth” the­ory. Sev­eral years ago, Shrout set up a new web­site, dubbed Exo-Commerce, to pro­vide “insight from a uni­ver­sal per­spec­tive,” which appears to be an attempt to blend sov­er­eign cit­i­zen the­o­ries and tac­tics with “New Age” beliefs. It is dif­fi­cult to deter­mine whether these are sin­cerely held beliefs or merely a cyn­i­cal attempt on the part of Shrout to expand to another gullible audience.

The new fed­eral charges against Shrout could put an end to such oppor­tunism, cyn­i­cal or sin­cere. If con­victed on all charges, Shrout may face what could be an effec­tive life sentence.

 

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May 17, 2013 Off

Cigarette Smuggling Case Linked To Hamas

cigarette-hamas-hezbollah-smugglers

New York Attor­ney Gen­eral Eric Schnei­der­man announc­ing the indictment

Ear­lier this week, author­i­ties in New York announced the indict­ment of 16 men accused of smug­gling more than $55 mil­lion worth of cig­a­rettes from Vir­ginia to New York.  Fif­teen of the men are in cus­tody while one is at large, believed to be in Jor­dan.  One of the accused is also believed to have sold the gun used in the 1994 mur­der of Ari Hal­ber­stam in Brooklyn.

Sev­eral of the men in the smug­gling ring are report­edly sus­pected of hav­ing ties to Hamas and other mil­i­tant groups.  Although author­i­ties do not yet know where the rev­enue was directed, they noted that, in the past such oper­a­tions have been used to finance Hamas and Hezbol­lah.

While fundrais­ing for ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions is not lim­ited to cig­a­rette smug­gling, there have been sev­eral cases within the United States in recent years, including:

  • A group of approx­i­mately 20 men ran a crim­i­nal enter­prise in Dear­born, Michi­gan, traf­fick­ing in con­tra­band cig­a­rettes, cig­a­rette papers and Via­gra, as well as stolen infant for­mula and toi­let paper.  Pros­e­cu­tors con­tend that the ring diverted some of the funds to Hezbol­lah.  Nat­u­ral­ized U.S. cit­i­zen Karim Has­san Nasser pleaded guilty to rack­e­teer­ing charges in Sep­tem­ber 2006, as did Theodore Schenk of Miami Beach, Florida and Imad Hamadeh of Dear­born Heights.
  • Dear­born res­i­dent Elias Mohamad Akhdar was sen­tenced in Jan­u­ary 2004 to nearly six years in prison for his role in a cigarette-smuggling ring designed to finance Hezbol­lah. Another Dear­born res­i­dent, Has­san M. Makki, received a sen­tence of nearly five years in prison in con­nec­tion with the scheme.
  • Car­ole Gor­don and her grand­daugh­ter Brandy Jo Bow­man were among eleven peo­ple charged in Jan­u­ary 2003 for their involve­ment in a cig­a­rette smug­gling ring that fun­neled its pro­ceeds to Hezbol­lah.   Both Gor­don and Bow­man pleaded guilty to rack­e­teer­ing charges.
  • Mohamad Ham­moud was charged in March 2001 for rais­ing funds and con­spir­ing to pro­vide “a vari­ety of items that Hizbal­lah [sic] would use to engage in vio­lent attacks and to film such attacks for use in Hizbal­lah [sic] pro­pa­ganda efforts,” accord­ing to court doc­u­ments.  Ham­moud allegedly pro­cured dual-use tech­nolo­gies for Hezbol­lah, includ­ing gog­gles, global posi­tion­ing sys­tems, stun guns, naval equip­ment, nitro­gen cut­ters and laser range find­ers.  Ham­moud and his brother, Chawki, were con­victed the fol­low­ing year of pro­vid­ing mate­r­ial sup­port to Hezbol­lah through their cigarette-smuggling ring that know­ingly directed money to the ter­ror­ist organization.
  • At least three nat­u­ral­ized U.S. cit­i­zens – Said Mohamad Harb, Bassem Youssef Ham­moud and Hus­sein Chahrour – and U.S. cit­i­zen Angela Geor­gia Tsioumas are among a group of nine indi­vid­u­als who bought cig­a­rettes in North Car­olina, shipped them to Michi­gan and sold them at a price lower than the tax-inflated Michi­gan price.  From 1995 to 2000, the scheme gen­er­ated over $7 mil­lion used to pro­cure dual-use tech­nolo­gies for Hezbol­lah.  Items were report­edly pur­chased for Hezbol­lah in both the U.S. and Canada, includ­ing gog­gles, global posi­tion­ing sys­tems, stun guns, naval equip­ment, nitro­gen cut­ters and laser range find­ers.  Harb pleaded guilty to pro­vid­ing mate­r­ial sup­port for ter­ror­ists and rack­e­teer­ing charges.  Tisoumas  pleaded guilty to rack­e­teer­ing and money laun­der­ing charges.   Chahrour pleaded guilty to rack­e­teer­ing charges.  Bas­sam Youssef Ham­moud pleaded guilty to traf­fick­ing in con­tra­band cigarettes.

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