Skip to main content
Press Release

Four Convicted in ‘Sovereign Citizen’ Investigation

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Washington
Defendants Convicted By Juries In Two Separate Trials

            An investigation into the criminal conduct of members of the so-called ‘Sovereign Citizen’ movement has resulted in four defendants being convicted by juries in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.  The jury deliberated for five hours before convicting RAYMOND LEO JARLIK BELL and UTE CHRISTINE JARLIK BELL of four counts of filing false, fictitious and fraudulent claims.  RAYMOND LEO JARLIK BELL was also convicted of 15 counts of assisting in filing false tax returns, three counts of mail fraud, and one count of obstruction of justice.  Judge Ronald B. Leighton scheduled sentencing for the couple from Yelm, Washington on June 14, 2013.

            Just last week, two other co-conspirators in a related case were convicted of federal charges for their criminal conduct.  KENNETH WAYNE LEAMING, 57, of Spanaway, Washington, was convicted of three counts of filing false liens against federal officials, and one count of harboring federal fugitives and being a felon in possession of firearms.  His co-conspirator, former Tacoma resident DAVID CARROLL STEPHENSON, was convicted of a single count of filing false liens against a federal official.

            “The right to criticize our government is one of the most cherished rights.  But this liberty does not include the right to commit crimes,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.  “These defendants repeatedly broke the law with frauds aimed at taxpayers and public servants.  We are grateful the jury held them accountable for their actions.”

            According to records filed in the case, law enforcement was investigating an on-going tax fraud scheme involving the JARLIK BELLs when LEAMING and STEPHENSON’s criminal conduct was uncovered.  Both men already had federal criminal convictions.  The JARLIK BELL investigation centered on the filing of false tax returns using a scheme known as OID fraud; RAYMOND LEO JARLIK BELL advised and assisted others in using the scheme. In 2006, the BELLs obtained a tax refund in excess of $30,000 using the scheme.  Six others who were advised by JARLIK BELL also filed for and received fraudulent refunds they did not deserve.  One woman received a tax refund of more than $590,000.

“There are people out there peddling ideas that are the modern equivalent of snake oil. The notion that there is a secret way to get the government to pay you money that you are not entitled to is just plain wrong. Our tax laws are public record and this conviction by jury proves that people who file false claims and sell that idea to others will be held accountable for their deceit,” said Kenneth J. Hines, Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation in the Pacific Northwest.

            Materials found in a search of the JARLIK BELL home implicated LEAMING in separate criminal conduct.  When investigators with a warrant searched LEAMING’s Spanaway home on November 21, 2011, they found six firearms.  LEAMING was prohibited from possessing firearms because of a prior felony conviction of operating an aircraft without a pilot’s license.  Additionally, investigators determined that two wanted federal fugitives from Arkansas had been living with LEAMING in his home.  Finally, the search revealed that LEAMING and STEPHENSON, who was an inmate at the time in an Arizona federal prison, had been conspiring to file liens against various federal officials including the Arizona prison warden and the head of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

            Members of the Sovereign Citizen movement profess a belief that both state and federal government entities are illegitimate.  Members of this group often engaged in so-called “freedom driving,” i.e., driving about without state-required licenses, either for their vehicles or themselves.  When contacted by local law enforcement, members of the group often bombard local officials (from the officer, to local judges, to mayors and other members of local government) with frivolous liens, false claims, and sometimes threats of violence.  Many members of this same group had previously come to the attention of federal law enforcement for engaging in various fraudulent tax schemes, wire fraud schemes, and (occasionally) inappropriate communications with various members of federal law enforcement and the judiciary.

            Two other defendants active in the Sovereign Citizen movement have already been sentenced to prison for their criminal conduct.  David Russell Myrland was sentenced in 2011 to 40 months in prison for making threats against elected officials in Kirkland, Washington.  And in 2012 Timothy Garrison was sentenced to 42 months in prison for assisting in the filing of false tax returns.

            The cases were investigated by the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), the FBI, ATF, the Federal Protective Service and the U.S. Marshal Service.

            The cases were prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Vince Lombardi, Jill Otake, Thomas Woods and Matthew Diggs.

Updated March 24, 2015