It’s a rare day in federal court that the defense, prosecution, and judge agree on the question, much less the answer.
But when U.S. District Judge James Mahan convened a recent hearing, the question on everyone’s mind was the same: What do we do with Jan Lindsey?
On paper, the 67-year-old Lindsey is a felon. He was arrested in March 2009 as part of an investigation into the anti-tax, anti-government Sovereign Movement by Nevada’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.”
He was accused of failing to file with the Internal Revenue Service from 1999 through 2006 and participating in a series of frauds and schemes designed to hide his tax liability. He pleaded guilty in March to evading $109,000 in income taxes.
That put him in line for prison time, and there are plenty of professional tax scofflaws whose half-clever, constitutionally confused systems have sent them to the big house. But he hadn’t always been a promoter of faulty tax philosophy.
There was more to Jan Lindsey than dummied up IRS forms.
As a young man, he enlisted in Vietnam and served with distinction, winning a Silver Star, Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts. He wasn’t some scammer who hated his country.
On the contrary. Lindsey worked as an FBI agent for 26 years before retiring in 1995. He spent 10 more years with the bureau conducting background investigations. When he was arrested, he was drawing an FBI pension.
After so many years of law-abiding service, had Lindsey experienced some epiphany about the evils of the U.S. Tax Code? Had he been reborn a revolutionary?
Hardly. As Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Damm, Assistant Federal Public Defender Shari Kaufman, and Judge Mahan acknowledged, this wasn’t the Lindsey anyone seemed to know. But when he retired, something happened to the man whose life had been so exemplary.
He lost his confidence, his bearings, and began associating with people impressed by his credentials. They were also followers of Robert Schulz, the self-proclaimed constitutional scholar whose We the People Foundation for Constitutional Education for years has preached that sovereign citizens aren’t required to file income tax returns or pay taxes. With the zeal of a tent preacher, and national media attention from Fox News, Schulz’s advice has led to misery for naive citizens.
By the time Lindsey appeared in the late Aaron Russo’s 2006 film “Freedom to Fascism,” he was an anti-tax movement celebrity. Unlike many, he wasn’t in it for the book and CD sales. No matter how misguided, it was a chance to get back in the fight for justice.
On July 9, he stood before Mahan a broken man. He had lost his home, his wife, his reputation, and now possibly his freedom.
“This is totally out of character for you,” a perplexed Mahan said. “How did you get here?”
After reeling off his legal resume, Mahan quipped, “If you didn’t have to pay taxes, don’t you think I’d be there at the head of the line?”
Damm argued, “There are many followers of the types of schemes Mr. Lindsey adopted and promoted. Mr. Lindsey is a person who, above all others, should have known better.”
But Damm couldn’t muster real outrage.
A parole and probation official admitted Lindsey “wasn’t the typical defendant that comes through our office, quite frankly.”
Kaufman, meanwhile, expounded on Lindsey’s virtues and his precipitous spiral from grace: “He found people who made him feel important. They used him. They convinced him, slowly, that he did not have to pay taxes. He’s had a lifetime of good work. He had a problem. He’s fine now.”
In the end, Mahan sentenced Lindsey to probation and $109,000 in restitution.
They left the courtroom that day satisfied justice, tempered with mercy, had been done.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.