Wednesday, April 25, 2007

5-Year Prison Sentence For Brown As New Waco Draws Nearer

5-Year Prison Sentence For Brown As New Waco Draws Nearer

Margot Sanger-Katz
Concord Monitor
Wednesday April 25, 2007

A federal judge sentenced tax protesters Ed and Elaine Brown to more than five years in prison yesterday, giving them sentences at the top of the range recommended by probation officers but below sentencing recommendations offered by the prosecutor.

The couple did not attend the hearing, and Ed Brown refused to recognize the sentence or the federal court that issued it.

"I've been convicted of crimes?" he asked in a phone interview yesterday.

The couple have been holed up in their fortified Plainfield home for several months, saying that any attempts to arrest them will trigger a violent confrontation with federal officials.

The Browns were convicted in January of conspiring to defraud the government, conspiring to disguise large financial transactions and disguising large financial transactions. Elaine Brown, whose West Lebanon dental practice earned the couple's income, was also convicted of multiple counts of tax evasion and failure to withhold employment taxes. The government calculated the couple's unpaid tax bill at roughly $750,000.

The Browns, who maintain that federal income tax laws don't apply to them, argued during their trial that the laws were invalid. Midway through the trial, the Browns stopped attending the proceedings. Ed Brown issued internet and radio statements that the situation might turn into "another Waco" and urged armed supporter to help him resist capture. In 1993, a standoff between the Branch Davidian religious sect and federal officers near Waco, Texas, resulted in 80 deaths, including those of four law enforcement agents.
Elaine Brown returned to court several days later and was released into the custody of a son in Massachusetts on the condition that she not return to her husband.

But a few weeks after the guilty verdict, she violated the terms of her release and joined Ed Brown in Plainfield. On a daily internet radio show and in sporadic blog posts and news interviews, the couple have challenged the validity of their convictions and the jurisdiction of the court, and they have issued threats against the judge, prosecutor and other federal officials.

Yesterday, it appeared that the U.S. marshals took those threats seriously. More than a dozen marshals were positioned around the courtroom during the sentencing. Others stood at patrols around the Concord courthouse during the day. Several of the marshals said they were brought in from out of state to work the hearings.

"We have concerns," U.S. Marshal Stephen Monier said at a press conference after the sentences were announced. "We're genuinely concerned because of their use of the internet, the blogs and some of the statements the Browns have made."

Judge Stephen McAuliffe rejected attempts by the prosecutor to boost the couple's sentences outside of the range recommended by probation officers. Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Morse argued that both Browns' sentences could be increased under federal sentencing guidelines because they had disrupted government functions and committed further crimes as fugitives. He also asked the judge to depart from the guidelines altogether because of the unusual circumstances surrounding their convictions.

"The defendants are thumbing their noses at the rule of law every step of the way," Morse said.

McAulliffe handed down nearly identical sentences. Both Ed and Elaine Brown were sentenced to 63 months in prison and three years of supervised release. The conditions of their supervised release require them to immediately file accurate tax returns for the years of their crimes and to comply with any payment plan required by the IRS.

The judge also finalized an order requiring the Browns to forfeit part of their interest in their home and office building found to be related to their crimes. The couple can satisfy that requirement by paying the total judgment, about $215,000.

During the trial, Elaine Brown turned down a plea deal that would have included a two-year prison sentence.

McAuliffe said the Browns' sentences were appropriate, given that they had been convicted of "garden variety" tax crimes, but he noted that they might face additional prison sentences if they were charged and convicted of the other crimes Morse described.

During the sentencings, Morse mentioned the Browns' destruction of Elaine Brown's electronic monitoring bracelet as a federal felony and also referred to threats against court officials, another federal crime.

Morse did not answer reporters' questions yesterday, but in a phone interview on Monday he said he could not comment on whether his office planned to charge the Browns over those allegations.

The Browns have 10 days to appeal their convictions. It is unclear whether they will. Shortly after the jury verdict in January, the couple attempted to file an appeal, but it was rejected as premature. In recent statements, the Browns have said that they will no longer receive mail from the court or file any documents. Joe Haas, a friend from Gilmanton Iron Works, said that Ed Brown told him yesterday that he would not file an appeal.

"Ed says he doesn't care. He doesn't acknowledge them. It's all a fiction," Haas said.

In a phone interview yesterday, Brown did not answer questions about his appeal, but he questioned whether the judge's ruling applied to him.

"Who's he?" Brown asked. "What's he? Part of the corporation of the United States? That has nothing to do with me. I'm a natural living soul."

Monier, the U.S. marshal, said his office's strategy has not changed as a result of the sentences. He said his staff will continue to communicate with the Browns and will not initiate a siege or standoff at their home.

"We're just not going to engage in that kind of game with them," he said.

In a letter he sent to the couple yesterday, he urged the Browns to turn themselves in.

"We have, and will continue to take, all reasonable steps to resolve this peacefully," he wrote.

Monier did say that his office will take action against Brown supporters who bring weapons to the Plainfield house or otherwise provide "assistance, aid, or comfort to the Browns in their continuing efforts to obstruct justice and avoid apprehension."

Since Ed Brown stopped attending his trial, he has been visited by a number of supporters who have brought food, weapons and technical assistance to him, and later to Elaine. Monier did not say whether friends who brought food might be subject to prosecution, but he did say visiting would be allowed.

"It's got to be a little bit more than just, 'Let's go out and say hi to Ed and Elaine today,' " Monier said.

About 15 supporters either attended the hearings or demonstrated outside the courthouse yesterday. Most said they were not surprised by the outcome.

"The whole thing was unfair, so it's still unfair," said Bernie Bastian of Weare, a close friend of Ed Brown's who attended every day of the trial. Bastian waited outside the courthouse yesterday because he said that he did not want to recognize the court's jurisdiction over his friend.

"I expected them to do wrong, and they met my expectation," he said.

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