by Brian Mahany
Over the years I have met many people in the sovereign citizen movement. These are folks who don’t believe in the tax laws of the United States. Most are quite intelligent and have done much research before they decide not to pay federal income tax. Although all of these folks can cite cases and statutes, the end result is usually the same. Prison.
The latest sovereign citizen headed for prison is Timothy Garrison of Mt. Vernon, Washington. He was sentenced earlier this week to 42 months in federal prison. Prosecutors say he assisted others in filing false tax returns. If that isn’t bad enough, he was a also accused of being a felon in possession of a firearm (Garrison has a prior felony fraud conviction) and for filing false tax liens against law enforcement officers.
There are many people who identify with the sovereign movement. The common thread is a strong distrust of government. Most members of the movement continue to pay taxes, however, although begrudgingly. Those that stop filing taxes, or worse… those that encourage others not to do so or antagonize cops and courts always wind up getting caught.
Like it or not, under our scheme of government the courts are the final arbiters of the law. Although there are dozens of theories floating around the Internet on why the tax system and the IRS is illegal, the courts have the final say. We have watched many brilliant legal scholars get marched off to jail thinking they were smarter than the IRS. Unfortunately for them, the courts have heard the arguments before and have universally rejected them.
Occasionally a sovereign citizen will get acquitted by a jury but that doesn’t mean the court has sanctioned their version of the law. The Tax Division of the U.S. Department of Justice boasts a near perfect conviction rate. While they do lose cases, the losses are few and far between. We have participated in some of those victories for taxpayers but most soverigns who elect to go to trial lose.
The tax freedom movement loves to boast about the stories of their victories. Little is said about the thousands who lose and head to jail each year, however. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez said, “You are free to believe anything. You are free to question authority. What you don’t have is the ability to break the law and not suffer the consequences.”
Sometimes the IRS can be beat but those who trumpet their success on the Internet, who help others avoid taxes and who actively attack the system can surely expect a swift and fierce reaction.
Immediately after Garrison’s sentencing, justice and IRS officials wasted no time in issuing press releases.
“When Americans go to a tax professional, they do not expect to receive faulty tax guidance from someone with a personal agenda,” said Kenneth J. Hines, the IRS special agent in charge of the Pacific Northwest. “Anyone who willfully breaks the tax laws, or uses others in an attempt to undermine the tax system, will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” Hines is serious; prosecutors have charged 6 people in western Washington state with ties to the tax freedom movement.
If you have intentionally failed to file or pay taxes, give us a call. (All inquiries are confidential and covered by the attorney client privilege.) We can help you come into compliance and avoid prosecution. If you are already charged or under investigation, we can help as well.
The tax lawyers at Mahany & Ertl have been involved in some of the largest tax trials in the U.S. For more information, contact attorney Brian Mahany at (414) 704-6731 (direct) or by email at
Mahany & Ertl – America’s Tax Lawyers. Offices in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Detroit, Michigan; Portland, Maine & Minneapolis, Minnesota. Tax services available nationwide.