News and Press Releases

United States vS. Claudia Hirmer, Et Al.
Case No.: 3:08cr79/MCR

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 25, 2012

On August 21, 2008, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida, Pensacola division, charged 13 individuals throughout the United States with conspiracy to impair and impede the Internal Revenue Service and to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and wire fraud, all as part of a nationwide tax defier movement which promoted the use of offshore trusts and foreign bank accounts as a way of evading federal income taxes. Two defendants are also charged with evasion of payment of income taxes. The charges include Title 18, United States Code (U.S.C.), Section 371 (Conspiracy), 18 U.S.C. 1956(h) (Conspiracy to commit money laundering), 18 U.S.C. Section 1343 (Mail Fraud), and U.S.C. 7201 (Willful Intent to Evade or Defeat Tax). 

The individuals charged in the grand jury indictment were:

Claudia Constance Hirmer of Niceville, Florida;
Mark Steven Hirmer of Niceville, Florida;
Ellen Meredith Stubenhaus of Lake Worth, Florida;
Dover Eugene Perry of Renton, Washington;
Arnold Ray Manansala of Renton, Washington;
Michael Guy Leonard of Troy, New York;
Mark Daniel Leitner of Fairport, New York;
Arthur Ramirez Merino of Seattle, Washington;
Joseph William McPhillips of Panama;
Eugene Joseph Casternovia of Ashland, Oregon;
Robert Leighton Pendell of Ashland, Oregon;
Mark Barry Lyon of Williams, Oregon;
Jeffrey Jean Jenks of Eugene, Oregon

The details of the indictment alleges that Mark and Claudia Hirmer operated “Pinnacle Quest International” (PQI), along with their related companies, “Synergy Productions International, Inc.” (SPI) and “MCD Productions,” in the Fort Walton Beach, Florida, area, where they sold memberships in their organization ranging in price from $1,350 to $18,750. The indictment alleges such memberships allowed users to gain access to various presentations, conference calls, DVD’s, CD’s and offshore conferences which Claudia Hirmer organized. It is alleged that PQI contracted with vendors, who gained exclusive access to the PQI membership in order to sell their products promoting anti-tax theories, offshore corporate structures, debt elimination tactics and offshore investment opportunities. It is further alleged that as part of the organization, PQI encouraged its members to refer clients to authorized vendors with the top selling PQI members being part of its “Executive Council, who included Ellen Stubenhaus, Joe McPhillips, Arnold Manansala, Dover Perry, Michael Leonard, and Arthur Merino. According to the indictment, “Qualified Consultants” for PQI, who included Mark Leitner, were individuals authorized to sell various levels of memberships. Membership fees would be distributed to the “Qualified Consultants” and “Executive Council” members who recruited the member. The indictment alleges an Ashland, Oregon organization called “SORCE” (Southern Oregon Resource Center Educational Services) was among the vendors PQI used. Controlled by Eugene Casternovia and which employed Mark Lyon and Robert Pendell, the indictment alleges SORCE sold materials and services to create a complex system of offshore entities used to conceal assets.

On December 16, 2008, defendant Joseph McPhillips pled guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and commit wire fraud; and conspiracy to commit money laundering and wire fraud.  The conspiracy to commit money laundering charge was later dismissed by the United States.  On August 19, 2010, McPhillips was sentenced to 18 months of incarceration followed by three years of supervised release and a $400 Special Monetary Assessment.

On February 8, 2010, charges against Jeffrey Jenks were dismissed by the United States.

In March 2010, the ten remaining defendants went to trial, with the exception of Ellen Stubenhaus who was a fugitive until her apprehension in 2011. 

On March 31, 2010, Robert Pendell was acquitted of all charges. On March 31, 2010, the remaining defendants were found guilty as follows:

Claudia and Marker Hirmer were found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States and commit wire fraud; conspiracy to commit money laundering; and willful intent to evade or defeat tax.  On October 27, 2010, Claudia Hirmer was sentenced to 240 months incarceration followed by three years of supervised release and a $300 Special Monetary Assessment.  On the same date, Mark Hirmer was sentenced to 180 months incarceration followed by three years of supervised release and $300 Special Monetary Assessment.  A cost of prosecution in the amount of $38,296.99 was also ordered by the court to be paid by both Claudia and Mark Hirmer. The judgment for both defendants also include the forfeiture of $3,600,000.00 in U.S. Currency and the real properties known as 104 Kent Court in Niceville, Florida and 511 Dory Avenue, Ft. Walton Beach, FL.

Dover Perry was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States and commit wire fraud; and conspiracy to commit money laundering.  On July 29, 2010, he was sentenced to 120 months incarceration followed by three years of supervised release and a $200 Special Monetary Assessment.

Arnold Manansala was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States and commit wire fraud; and conspiracy to commit money laundering.  On July 29, 2010, he was sentenced to 144 months incarceration followed by three years of supervised release and a $200 Special Monetary Assessment.

Michael Leonard was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to commit wire fraud; and conspiracy to commit money laundering.  On July 29, 2010, he was sentenced to 108 months incarceration followed by three years of supervised release and a $200 Special Monetary Assessment.

Mark Leitner was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States and commit wire fraud.  On July 29, 2010, he was sentenced to 60 months incarceration followed by three years of supervised release and a $100 Special Monetary Assessment.

Arthur Merino was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States and commit wire fraud.  On September 17, 2010, he was sentenced to 40 months incarceration followed by three years of supervised release and a $100 Special Monetary Assessment.

Eugene Casternovia was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States and commit wire fraud; and conspiracy to commit money laundering.  On September 16, 2010, he was sentenced to 84 months incarceration followed by three years of supervised release and a $200 Special Monetary Assessment.

Mark Lyon was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States and commit wire fraud; and conspiracy to commit money laundering.  On September 16, 2010, he was sentenced to 18 months incarceration followed by three years of supervised release and a $200 Special Monetary Assessment.

Last remaining defendant - ELLEN STUBENHAUS

CASE STATUS
The case against Ellen Stubenhaus is still pending.  The lead prosecutor for this case is Department of Justice Tax Attorney Jonathan Marx.  The current charges include conspiracy to defraud the United States and to commit wire fraud; conspiracy to commit money laundering and wire fraud.

On January 27, 2012, defendant Ellen Stubenhaus pled guilty to Conspiracy to Defraud the United States before United States Magistrate Judge William Sherrill, Jr., in Tallahassee, Florida .  A copy of the filed Criminal Information is included below.   Defendant Stubenhaus' April 19th sentencing date has been rescheduled for May 22, 2012 at 12:30pm. The sentencing hearing will now be be held in Tallhasssee, Florida at the U.S. Federal Courthouse located at 111 N. Adams Street before Chief United States District Judge Casey Rodgers.  Because of the Court's schedule, hearing dates could change on very short notice. If you plan on attending, you may want to verify the date either by using the VNS Call Center or website. You may obtain current information about this case on the VNS web site at WWW.Notify.USDOJ.GOV or from the VNS Call Center at 1-866-DOJ-4YOU (1-866-365-4968) (TDD/TTY: 1-866-228-4619) (International: 1-502-213-2767).

A United States Probation Officer prepares a report for the Court and may contact you to discuss the impact the crime had on you financially, physically, and/or emotionally. If you are contacted, please make every effort to provide accurate and detailed information.  Through the Victim Notification System (VNS) we will continue to provide you with updated scheduling and event information as the case proceeds through the criminal justice system.

If you are a victim of the charged offense, and wish to speak at the sentencing hearing, please call our office well in advance of the scheduled hearing date.



VICTIM INFORMATION
Please note that you are not a victim of a crime to the extent you purchased a tax-related vendor or tax-related scheme from PQI, including, but not limited to, the following:
(i) any product offered by Southern Oregon Resource Center for Educational Services (also known as SORCE, the Ashland Resource Center, and ReSORCE)

(ii) banking or debit card services from ICIS Money Orders (also known American for Lawful Financial Independence and Information, MYICIS, and ALFII)

(iii) any product offered by IMF Decoder, also known as IRS Codebusters

(iv) any product offered by William J. Benson

(v) any other product or scheme marketed or promoted as a “reliance defense,” “asset protection,” “structuring,” “tax minimization,” or similar designations.

COURT DOCUMENTS

Eugene Casternovia

Claudia Himer

Mark Leitner

Michael Leonard

Mark Lyon

Arnold Manansala

Joseph McPhillips

Arthur Merino

Dover Perry

Stubenhaus Criminal Information

Stubenhaus Plea Agreement

Stubenhaus Statement of Facts

Unsealed Indictment

If you have any questions please contact:

Gretchen Busbee
Victim Witness Specialist
21 East Garden Street, Suite 400
Pensacola, Florida 32502
Office: 850-444-4000
Email: gretchen.busbee@usdoj.gov

 

Return to Top

USAO Homepage
USAO Briefing Room
Stay Connected with Twitter
What Makes Schools Safer? Using science to discover what works. Federal funding available. Visit NIJ.gov, keywords: 'comprehensive school safety intiative'
Got Drugs? dispose unused RX
The Medicine Abuse Project The Partnership at Drugfree.org Supporter
Project Safe Neighborhoods

Our nation-wide commitment to reducing gun crime in America.

Project Safe Childhood

Help us combat the proliferation of sexual exploitation crimes against children.

Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee

Training and seminars for Federal, State, and Local Law Enforcement Agencies.