Ed Ward, MDMissing Article: Tax protesters have their day in court PlaiSat Jan 13, 2007 19:45
Tax protesters have their day in court Plainfield couple hasn't paid since 1996
By Margot Sanger-Katz
The trial of a Plainfield couple who refused to pay income taxes for nearly 10 years began yesterday in federal court with Ed and Elaine Brown each arguing that they do not believe the income tax applies to them.
The couple, who are representing themselves, said they did not dispute the prosecutor's contention that they had opted out of the tax system, but they said they believe they have not broken the law by doing so.
"My husband and I challenged the application of the tax law to us," Elaine Brown said in her opening statement. "We cannot find any statute that requires us to pay."
According to Bill Morse, the assistant United States attorney who is prosecuting the case, the Browns stopped paying income taxes in 1996 and stopped filing tax returns in 1998. Both Browns are accused of conspiring to commit tax fraud, conspiring to disguise large financial transactions and disguising large financial transactions. Elaine Brown, a dentist who practices in Lebanon, has also been charged with evading income taxes and failing to withhold taxes from her employees. Each of the Browns face decades in prison if convicted.
"This case arises from the defendants' attempt to avoid the inevitable: paying their income taxes," Morse said in his opening statement, which detailed the history of the Browns' nonpayment, which he said totals more than $625,000.
But while Morse characterized the Browns' unwillingness to pay as willful tax evasion, the Browns, who each made an opening statement, called their actions a political stand. They claim that after concluding more than a decade ago that they were exempt from the federal tax system, they decided to test the government. Rather than paying federal income taxes, they began sending letters to the IRS demanding an explanation of the relevant law. They said they've received no response to their questions.
In at least one of the letters described in testimony, the Browns acknowledged that they might be inviting criminal prosecution, but in their comments yesterday, they made clear that they do not believe they have broken the law.
"We will once and for all show beyond the shadow of a doubt - not reasonable doubt, beyond the shadow of a doubt - that the federal income tax system is a fraud," Ed Brown said in his opening statement. "For 12 years, they have avoided answering us."
In testimony yesterday, two government witnesses began sketching the Browns' tax history. According to a former accountant who prepared their returns and an IRS investigator who examined their tax records, the couple filed and paid their joint return for at least five years before they decided to opt out in 1996. According to Denise Stark, who had prepared the Browns' taxes, one day Elaine Brown told her that they'd decided to stop paying.
"Elaine explained to me that they were no longer going to file their tax return because there was a law or some sort of a legal reason," Stark said. Stark said she told Brown she disagreed and said the meeting was the end of their professional relationship.
In 1996, the Browns filed a joint return with a zero on the line that should have shown income from Elaine Brown's practice, according to Paul Crowley, an IRS agent who described the document. That year, the Browns claimed they owed no income tax and appended a letter to their return form. According to portions of the letter Crowley read aloud, the Browns' explanation of their return included contentions that the federal income tax only applied to residents of Washington, D.C., or other federal territories and that Supreme Court precedent had found that labor was not taxable.
The following year, Crowley testified, the Browns sent a second letter to the IRS.
"We have been requesting clarification of our status to no avail," it said. After that, Crowley testified, the Browns did not file any tax returns or pay any taxes.
In interviews since their indictment, the Browns have argued that most Americans don't owe federal income taxes, but that government officials conspire to keep them from discovering the truth. It's one of several ways the Browns believe the federal government is undermining personal freedoms. Ed Brown, who led a local militia in the 1990s, is now a leader in a national group called the Constitution Rangers of the Continental Congress of 1777, which he said was established to confront law enforcement figures whenever they violate the Constitution. Brown often wears the Constitution Rangers badge and has the insignia painted on the sides of the couple's two cars.
In the months since their indictment in May, the Browns have filed repeated, lengthy briefs challenging the jurisdiction of the federal court, the legitimacy of the grand jury indictments and the impartiality of the judge, since he's a federal employee.
With a few exceptions, all of these motions have been denied. The Browns have also demanded documents from the government, including personal information about the members of the grand jury, which Judge Steven McAuliffe declined to give them.
Yesterday, shortly after jury selection, Ed Brown asked McAuliffe to promise that he would obey "the letter of the law" during the trial. McAuliffe responded by scolding Brown for challenging his authority.
"This is not a bully pulpit in which you get to filibuster," McAuliffe said. "You're now in trial."
Then he quickly changed his tone and tried to persuade the Browns to consider a lawyer.
"I'm actually begging you," McAuliffe said. "I feel so bad for you both. You really both should have counsel."
From the time of their arraignment, court officials have encouraged the Browns to seek representation. Shortly after their arrest, the Browns said they wanted a lawyer but were having difficulty finding one willing to argue their unconventional views about tax law.
Yesterday, Ed Brown said he and his wife ultimately decided against an attorney because they were concerned that all bar members were too closely tied to the courts to represent their views impartially.
"Attorneys do not understand constitutional law," he said, in an interview after testimony wrapped up. "Attorneys do not understand IRS law."
Instead of an attorney, Ed Brown said he and his wife are relying on a handful of outside advisers, none of them lawyers.
Those advisers were not in court yesterday, Ed Brown said. But nearly a dozen supporters attended the trial yesterday. Most said they were personal friends of the Browns, but a few said they'd heard about the trial on an e-mail listserv targeted to local residents with anti-tax views. In recesses and during the lunch break, several of them offered the Browns suggestions about questions to ask or ways to phrase their arguments.
The trial will continue today and is expected to take five to seven days to complete.
Downsize DC, http://www.downsizedc.org/mission.shtml - Read The Bill Act, http://www.downsizedc.org/rtba_legislation.shtml. Many other quick and simple ways to email your voice on Constitutional rights and organizing for activism - https://secure.downsizedc.org/rtba/coalition/.
STOP SPENDING AND START SAVING! - CUT THE GDP - MONEY IS THE ONLY THING THE US GOVERNMENT UNDERSTANDS - WHEN THEY START RETURNING THE CONSTITUTION - WE CAN START SPENDING AGAIN.
Dei Jurum Conventus
Ed Ward, MD; http://www.thepriceofliberty.org/arc_ward.htm
Independent writer/Media Liaison for The Price of Liberty; http://www.thepriceofliberty.org/
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