Samuel Davis, a reputed national leader in the anti-government "sovereign citizens" movement, was sentenced Thursday to 57 months in federal prison for his admitted role in a $1.3 million money laundering scheme.
U.S. District Judge James Mahan also ordered Davis to serve three years of supervised release after he gets out of prison and pay $95,782 in restitution to the government. Davis has until Jan. 31 to surrender to prison officials.
Davis, 57, pleaded guilty in the money laundering scheme in March without a plea agreement days before his trial was to start. His co-defendant, Shawn Rice, a self-proclaimed attorney and rabbi, is a fugitive.
Both men were indicted in March 2009 after a three-year undercover FBI investigation into activities of the sovereign citizens in Las Vegas.
Agents assigned to the Southern Nevada Joint Terrorism Task Force had infiltrated the group, which taught its anti-government leanings to a nationwide following out of a local print shop.
Davis, who lives in Idaho, is among tens of thousands of Americans who have declared themselves sovereign citizens above the government's jurisdiction and not obligated to pay taxes.
The movement's members have tried over the years to disrupt and overthrow government and other forms of authority by using "paper terrorism" tactics, intimidation, harassment and violence, law enforcement authorities say.
Davis, who once referred to himself as "I am: Sam" in court documents as a symbol of his refusal to recognize the establishment, has been described by authorities as a national leader of the movement who travels around the country teaching its ideology.
In court Thursday, both Davis and his lawyer, Todd Leventhal, said Davis accepted responsibility for his actions, but they contended that his belief system landed him in trouble with the law.
Leventhal also argued that FBI agents baited Davis in the money laundering scheme, getting him to take the "poisoned fruit."
Davis told Mahan he considered himself a family man who has devoted a lifetime to helping others.
He read a statement apologizing for what he did and asking Mahan for forgiveness.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Johnson countered that the government did not charge Davis because of his views.
Davis took advantage of the "anti-government sentiment out there" and taught people how to "avoid their responsibilities to the government," Johnson said.
"He preyed on these people and profited from it," Johnson added.
In the end, Mahan handed out a lesser sentence than the 64 months that Johnson had sought because Davis has no other criminal record.
Mahan also denied a government request for a $1.3 million forfeiture judgment against Davis, saying it amounted to unnecessary additional punishment.
Mahan told Davis he wasn't being sent to prison for his views.
"That's irrelevant," the judge said. "You're charged with money laundering. The problem was that you bit, and that's why you're here today."
In court papers, prosecutors alleged that Davis and Rice, 48, who had been living in Arizona, laundered the $1.3 million for the undercover agents, who said the money had come from the theft and forgery of official bank checks.
The crimes occurred between about March 2008 and March 2009.
Davis took nearly $74,000 in fees, and Rice took about $22,000, prosecutors alleged.
When Davis entered his guilty plea in March, he alleged that FBI agents "devised a scheme of entrapment and inducement targeting (him) under the pretext of friendship, and deception of lies."
After his sentencing on Thursday, Davis said, "It amazes me that the government is in the business of creating crimes."
Contact Jeff German at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-8135.