- Associated Press - Monday, June 23, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Jerry Adrian was a prominent Sioux Falls businessman for almost 50 years, respected for his work ethic and reliability.

He was a community leader, known for a generous heart, a commitment to children and adherence to his Christian faith.

By the time he died last year, the Adrian name had become known for something else: tax evasion and a fringe ideology known as the sovereign citizen movement. The founder of Adrian Sod was charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. for a decade-long failure to pay taxes he had refused to recognize as legitimate.

His son, Jared Adrian, was given an 11-month prison sentence last week for following in his father’s unlawful business practices.

“Sovereign citizens” still paper state authorities with bogus lawsuits and false liens, camp out in foreclosed properties and sometimes refuse to pay debts or take driver’s licenses. The movement rose during the rural farm crisis of the early 1980s and has persisted in South Dakota almost 40 years.

Before his arrest for tax evasion, Jerry Adrian and a former pastor named Ray Ehrman filed lawsuits citing a hodgepodge of legal doctrines to reclaim land that the sod dealer once had presented as a gift to a Christian counseling center.

He wanted the property back to establish a headquarters for “The Republic of South Dakota,” a group of believers who claim authority for themselves.

“We tried to talk him out of it,” said his brother, Jim Adrian. “You just couldn’t.”

The effect on the Adrian family has been devastating. Adrian Sod, a locally owned company with a 50-year history in the Sioux Falls area and a deep well of trust, is defunct.

Walt Schaefer is a friend of Jerry Adrian and the former head of McCrossan Boys Ranch.

“There was a side of Jerry that was very generous, but there was this other side that was way off,” Schaefer said.

Officials in South Dakota say the sovereign philosophy is more long-standing, prominent and problematic than might people might realize.

A Minneapolis man named Byron Dale who lectures on how to “break the bonds of economic servitude” has his roots in a mortgage protest. He fought foreclosure of his ranch in Timber Lake in the 1980s.

The Legislature passed a law in 1997 against the filing of counterfeit liens. It states that “lack of belief in the jurisdiction or authority of the state or of the United States is no defense to a prosecution,” in part as a response to the movement’s tactics.

The Adrian case, among others, shows that the thinking still thrives.

“We’ve got an awful strain of this in South Dakota,” said Brendan Johnson, U.S. attorney for South Dakota. “It’s not quite as strong as you might see in Colorado or Michigan, but it’s here.”

Johnson has prosecuted several “sovereign citizens” for tax evasion. He says the line between a refusal to recognize the authority of the government and acting out against the government is thin.

- Eugene Paulson of Rosholt tried to convene a “citizen grand jury” last year to arrest Judge Scott Myren and wound up with a felony charge.

- Don Anderson of Beresford, who once referred to himself as the governor of the Republic of South Dakota, was charged for filing liens against Clay County Sheriff Andy Howe and Judge John Simko of Sioux Falls.

- A father and son in Sanborn County are facing tax evasion charges in federal court, similar to those faced by the Adrians.

The persistence of these people shouldn’t be taken lightly just because nothing violent has happened recently in the state, Johnson said.

A tax protester named Gordon Kahl killed two U.S. Marshals in Medina, North Dakota, in 1983. He fled in a marshal’s vehicle to Arkansas, where a sheriff was killed and Kahl died in another shootout.

- Oklahoma City bombers Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols carried out an attack on a federal building in 1995. A group calling themselves “freemen” took over county offices in Garfield County, Montana, for 81 days in 1996.

-This month, a couple in Las Vegas who had called for “revolution” and compared U.S. law enforcement with Nazis killed two police officers before fleeing to a nearby Wal-Mart to take hostages.

“They hold judges and public officials in such little regard that they can become a public safety problem,” Johnson said.

Ray Ehrman of Freeman, a former clergyman and truck driver, doesn’t like the term “sovereign citizen.” He was indicted on conspiracy charges alongside the Adrians, but the charges were dropped after Jerry Adrian’s death and his son’s guilty plea.

Sovereign citizen, he argues, is an oversimplification meant to smear the beliefs held by Adrian, Ehrman, Anderson and “hundreds” of others in the South Dakota.

“It’s a buzzword,” Ehrman said. “There’s a sort of guilt by association that happens with that word.”

Some in the Adrian family say Ehrman influenced Jerry Adrian’s thinking, but Ehrman recently said that the family didn’t understand his friend.

“Jerry Adrian had his own mind,” Ehrman said. “I was not responsible for getting Adrian into those trusts. He did that two years before me.”

Jerry Adrian set up trusts to shield income from taxes after listening to the teachings of William Cooper, Ehrman said. He later fell in line with Ehrman’s “definitions argument,” which comes to a similar conclusion.

Ehrman said he hasn’t filed a tax return since 1984. The U.S. tax code, Ehrman said, has at least 10 different definitions of “United States,” he contends.

“They never did say which United States (Jerry) owed taxes to,” Ehrman said.

Under his interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, the federal government has authority to impose income taxes only on the District of Columbia.

Ehrman, like many who espouse sovereign citizen beliefs, also claims there’s significance in the punctuation of “citizen” within the U.S. Constitution.

It’s spelled with an upper case letter in the earlier Amendments, but with a lower case letter from the Fourteenth Amendment on. The Fourteenth Amendment created a new class of citizen, they believe, separate from the sovereign, capital C citizens who existed before.

Adrian would point out he was not a corporate fiction - the lower case “citizen” - in legal filings.

Courts routinely have dismissed their arguments. So does Daniel Levin, a professor at the University of Utah.

“I’d call it the Hogwarts theory of the law, but that’s almost disrespectful to J.K. Rowling,” Levin said. “It’s what happens when people who are not legally educated take it upon themselves to act as legal scholars.”

A popular claim is that the government has commoditized citizens through the issuance of birth certificates and uses them in trade agreements with foreign governments. That birth certificates have names written in all caps is meaningful, adherents argue, and writing a name in lower case letters in legal documents is a way to distinguish one’s self from the “fictional” person cited by the government.

“It’s saying ‘the rules don’t apply because I’m a different kind of citizen. Because I’m a capital C citizen, you’re not the boss of me,’” Levin said.

In South Dakota, the beliefs lead to headaches for authorities and difficulties collecting on debts.

Anderson filed a lien against Clay County Sheriff Andy Howe, for example, ordering him to pay $1.8 million for serving an “improper” warrant upon him.

“He actually sent me a self-addressed envelope so I could send him a check,” Howe said.

In 2012, Deutsche Bank filed for judgment against Anderson for an unpaid credit card bill of $1,400.

In response, Anderson wrote a “Notice of Chose in Action,” ordering a lawyer for the bank, Robert Breit of Sioux Falls, to pay him $250,000 because he hadn’t “proved up his claim.”

Anderson was ordered to pay the judgment, but not until Deutsche Bank racked up more than $6,000 in legal fees fending off Anderson’s ploys.

Adrian, Ehrman and a handful of supporters used similar tactics to reclaim land next to the Adrian compound in Lincoln County.

In the early 2000s, Adrian gave the land to the Manna Ministry Center, a nonprofit, Christian counseling agency that later changed its name to New Haven Ministries.

When New Haven sold the land to Hope Community Church, Adrian resisted. He claimed the property with the help of his Republic friends and rented a house there to a devotee named Kevin Myers.

“They put up signs essentially taking possession of the property,” said Steve Sanford, a lawyer for New Haven.

He sued to stop the sale in Lincoln County and in U.S. District Court of South Dakota, losing each time. After the property was awarded to Hope Community Church, it took another lawsuit to remove Myers from the house.

The group even tried, unsuccessfully, to transfer the property to “The Ecclesiastical Court of Justice in Colorado,” a citizen court founded on a claim that biblical law as interpreted by its adherents trumps federal law.

Ultimately, Lincoln County Sheriff Dennis Johnson had to reclaim the property.

“Twice, I got court orders to turn the property over to the person it was awarded to,” said Johnson, who said he has “a cupboard full of papers” sent by Adrian during the dispute.

At Jared Adrian’s sentencing hearing, Shalece Vinson, Jerome Adrian’s daughter, said her father was a good man who had been influenced by the views of people such as Ehrman.

“It’s like a cult,” she said. “There are a lot of other people who should be sitting where my brother is sitting.”

Craig Lloyd, one of Sioux Falls’ most successful real estate developers, said Adrian Sod helped on countless developments. Jerry Adrian had a reputation for being prompt, doing the job as promised and handling customers with respect.

“I think he laid his first sod for us in 1972,” Lloyd said. “We miss him terribly, because it’s difficult to get sod right now.”

Lloyd was shocked when he read about the tax evasion. So was Jim Entenmann, the owner of J&L; Harley Davidson and a former Sioux Falls City Council member. The Adrians were customers at J&L;, longtime lovers of motorcycles and supporters of various charity rides.

“It blew me away,” Entenmann said. “He never, ever, preached any anti-tax stuff to me. … I’ve got kind thoughts forever for the guy and his family.”

The Adrians took in “quite a few” foster children, his brother Jim said.

“He did a lot for the community,” Jim Adrian said.

The real tragedy, Jim Adrian said, is that the views his brother adopted in his later years and pushed upon his family shut down the business and landed his son, Jared, in federal prison.

Jared Adrian, once a prominent and respected businessman himself, was ordered to pay almost $360,000 in back taxes.

“He’ll never climb out of it, financially,” Jim Adrian said.

___

Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com

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