Jury convicts follower of sovereign citizen movement on charges over bogus liens filed against court officials, federal employees

By Bethany Krajelis | Jun 18, 2014

A federal jury in Chicago today convicted a follower of the sovereign citizen movement on charges she filed false liens seeking billions of dollars from current and federal employees in retaliation for the prosecution of her brother.

Following two days of testimony, a federal jury today found Cherron Marie Phillips guilty of filing bogus maritime liens against the property of Patrick Fitzgerald, the former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Senior U.S. District Judge James Holderman, the former chief judge of Chicago's federal court, as well as a prosecutor, three judges, a court clerk and a handful of other federal employees.

Phillips, a 43-year-old Chicago native who also goes by River Tali Bey, filed the liens in 2011 against the federal employees for their roles in the investigation and prosecution of her brother, Devon Phillips, according to a release from U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton for the Southern District of Illinois.

The jury, Wigginton's office said, found Phillips guilty on 10 of the 12 counts lodged against her.

U.S. District Judge Michael J. Reagan of the Southern District of Illinois presided over the trial and Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan D. Stump, also of the Southern District, prosecuted the case to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Reagan accepted the jury’s verdict and ordered Phillips to be detained pending her Oct. 14 sentencing, the release states, noting that the judge dubbed her “a paper terrorist” and expressed concerns over the public’s safety if she were released on bond.

“We take these cases very seriously,” Wigginton said in the release, “and we will continue to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law all who seek to intimidate, harass, and retaliate against federal judges and employees by filing false liens against their property.”

He added, “This is the basest form of harassment aimed at folks carrying out their sworn duties. No one should have to contend with this type of attempted intimidation.”

On behalf of the government, Stump presented evidence during trial that from 2006 to 2011, Phillips’ brother, Devon, had been investigated and eventually prosecuted, for cocaine trafficking.

Wigginton’s office said Phillips regularly attended Devon’s court proceedings and filed objections over the court’s jurisdiction in the matter.

After Devon was sentenced on the drug charges, Phillips filed liens against the slew of court officials and federal employees. The liens weren’t discovered until the summer of 2011, when the court’s clerk was working on a real estate transaction.

Wigginton’s office said the title search showed a lien naming the clerk as a vessel and claimed he owed Devon Phillips $100 billion.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations, along with other agencies, executed a search warrant on Phillips’ home in March 2012, when they found the liens inside a locked safe in a bedroom. A FBI fingerprint expert testified during trial that he found Phillips’ fingerprints on nine of the 12 liens.

Wigginton’s office said prosecutors also showed jurors letters that Phillips had sent to five of the officials she filed liens against, including Fitzgerald, in which she apologized for making “a serious mistake,” the release notes.

Fitzgerald, who now practices law at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP in Chicago testified at the trial. He told jurors, according to published media reports, that he didn't think he owed Devon "a penny," let alone "owe anyone $100 billion."

Reports noted that Phillips, who was represented by court-appointed attorney Lauren Solomon, declined to testify at trial, saying she didn’t consent to the legal process and that personal jurisdiction is not on the record.

Reports further state that Reagan barred any mention of the sovereign citizen movement during trial.

Followers of the sovereign citizen movement believe among many other ideologies that people have the right under common law to declare themselves a nation and therefore, can’t be subjected to most laws or governments legal proceedings.

According to a post on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website, the sovereign citizens movement “has been growing at a fast pace since the late 2000s” and its followers “are clogging up the courts with indecipherable filings” as their “weapon of choice …is paper.”

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