Sovereign Citizens group terrorizes small-town officials with fake liens
Published: Monday, May 23, 2011, 7:40 AM Updated: Monday, May 23, 2011, 8:25 AM
When police officer Anthony Kalimeras went to kick squatters Ed-George Parenteau and Jeffrey Charles Burfeindt out of a foreclosed home in Ulster County March 4, 2009, he thought they were run-of-the-mill nuts.
They had a fake deed and homemade identification. They gave only their first and middle names — Edward George and Jeffrey Charles. And they gave birthdates of 11/28/5958 and 2/16/5964. He arrested them for trespassing and false personation.
Kalimeras remembers that they kept saying: You wouldn’t understand.
Until months later, when the two men filed liens against Kalimeras; his employer, the town of Lloyd; and more than a dozen other municipalities and individuals for $135 billion.
The two men filed fake papers in real places — the New York Department of State, Washington state and Ulster County. The people involved in their arrests were inundated with reams of nonsensical documents like maritime liens and judgment demands for millions of dollars.
Parenteau, from the Chenango County town of Sherburne, and Burfeindt are part of a loosely knit national movement called Sovereign Citizens. Followers think the laws of the U.S. don’t apply to them. They don’t have drivers licenses or pay taxes.
The two men were working with another Sovereign Citizen named Richard Ulloa. All three became the subject of an FBI terrorism task force investigation and federal criminal charges.
Parenteau and Burfeindt have pleaded guilty in federal court; Parenteau was sentenced to 21 months in prison May 13. Burfeindt and Ulloa, who was convicted in a jury trial, have not been sentenced.
Court papers, liens and interviews show a scheme to destroy the lives of ordinary small-town people enforcing the law. Some of the people targeted in the paperwork attack are so frightened for their lives that they now carry guns. Victims could be anyone who came into contact with the men: patrol officers, a prosecutor, town justices and even clerks.
Though the multibillion-dollar liens are bogus, they were accepted by the New York Department of State and other state governments. A lien is a record of an unpaid debt filed against a person or business. The duo didn’t have to prove the debts were real; filing paperwork was enough.
Then the liens appeared on the credit reports of the people and towns terrorized. And it takes months of hard work, and money, to get the liens removed.
Parenteau said during his sentencing that he learned how to file the liens through a seminar given by James Timothy Turner, a guru in the Sovereign Citizens movement who charges money to teach people how to thwart the government through malicious paperwork.
In a YouTube video of one of his presentations, Turner wears a jacket but no tie. At first, he sounds like a friendly Southern guy fed up with government and the economy. Then he explains how the current government is really a corporation, and by being citizens, we have all participated in the sham. We have let the government steal from us. We have been begging for permission when the land, the money and the laws are ours, he says.
“I’m going to show you how to get it back,” Turner says. He mentions how he’s been called a terrorist by Janet Napolitano, director of homeland security.
“We are terrorists because we believe in this country, not the corporation,” he says.
A violent streak
They are considered terrorists because their paperwork wars can escalate to violence.
Mark Pitcavage, an investigator with the Anti-Defamation League, a national civil rights agency, has studied the Sovereign Citizen movement for years. Law enforcement actions that threaten their beliefs can lead to gunfire, Pitcavage said. Things like traffic stops and child protective visits can end up battlegrounds because Sovereign Citizens don’t believe those laws apply to them.
Pitcavage said the movement has been growing over the past two years. The anti-government ideals appeal to the far right and people who are struggling financially. Some of the Turner’s seminars focus on telling people how to get out of foreclosure.
There have been Sovereign Citizens in Upstate New York for decades, Pitcavage said, and it’s safe to assume that they are in every county.
West Memphis, Ark., police Chief Bob Paudert had never heard of Sovereign Citizens before May 20, 2010.
That’s when Jerry Kane was pulled over on the highway. When the officers checked his registration, they found his car was registered to the “Kingdom of Heaven.” Kane became belligerent. Then his 16-year-old son jumped out of the car and began firing an AK-47 rifle, said Bob Paudert, the police chief there.
The teen pumped 14 bullets into Brandon Paudert, 39, the chief’s son. And 16 bullets into his fellow officer, Bill Evans. Paudert arrived on the scene to find his son dead on the road.
Kane and his son were later killed in a shootout with police in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
The Sovereign Citizens in Ulster County used a different kind of warfare.
When odd papers started coming into Ulster County, demanding millions in debts, Ulster County Attorney Beatrice Havranek didn’t think much. “At first blush, I thought this is ridiculous,” Havranek said.
The first papers were from Ulloa, whose problems started with two traffic tickets. After he was ticketed, he filed phony judgment demands with accusations against the court, officers and municipalities, asking for money damages for being detained. It’s a common practice of the Sovereign Citizens. Parenteau and Burfeindt did the same thing.
At first, no one paid attention. But when those papers went unanswered, the defendants filed bogus liens in legitimate places. They named the towns, the county and individuals. The first was filed in Washington state, just to make it harder to fight. More were filed in New York. One lien, filed by Parenteau, demanded billions in silver.
The lawyer for the governments’ insurance company, John Bailey of Albany, filed a federal racketeering lawsuit against Parenteau, Burfeindt and Ulloa in March 2010, accusing them of extortion through the bogus liens. The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office then pursued a criminal case.
Intimidation by paperwork
Bailey said some of the town employees involved in the suit were so shaken by what happened, and what they learned about the Sovereign Citizen movement, that they wondered whether they should quit their jobs and move out of the area.
Kalimeras, the Lloyd police officer who arrested Parenteau and was named in the multibillion-dollar lien, said the town is now paying to have his credit monitored, along with the others caught in the Sovereigns’ paper spree. Every time he makes a major purchase — like when he bought some furniture recently — his credit card company calls to make sure it’s really him.
Havranek, the Ulster County attorney, said she now gets filings from other Sovereign Citizens from time to time. Ulster County is now on their radar.
The county doesn’t plan to cower.
“We’re not just going to ignore them. We’re prepared,” she said.
Paudert wants to make sure the rest of the country is prepared for the Sovereign Citizens. The police chief is avenging his son’s death by becoming an expert on the movement. He travels the country warning other law enforcement officers to know what to look for. And to warn them that, with these people, the run-of-the-mill traffic stop can turn deadly without any warning.
“They’re gone,” Paudert said of his son and the other officer who were gunned down. “But it’s not too late to save others.”