Sean David Morton, 59, Hermosa, Beach, California was sentenced to six years in federal prison and his wife, Melissa Ann Morton, 51, Hermosa Beach, California, was sentenced to two years in federal prison for using bogus financial instruments in an attempt to pay off debt and for filing fraudulent tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service that sought millions of dollars in refunds. The Mortons were each ordered to pay $480,322 in restitution to the IRS.
Sean Morton’s sentencing follows a four-day trial in April in which he was found guilty by a federal jury of one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, two counts of filing false claims against the United States, and 26 counts of passing false or fictitious financial instruments. Sean Morton was originally scheduled to be sentenced in June, but he failed to appear for that hearing and was a fugitive for over two months. Melissa Morton was convicted of conspiracy, two counts filing false claims and 25 counts of passing false or fictitious financial instruments
The Mortons operated a “redemption” scheme, which is the most common scheme used across the nation by tax defiers and “sovereign citizens.” Proponents of this scheme falsely claim that the United States government controls bank accounts – often referred to as “U.S. Treasury Direct Accounts” – for U.S. citizens that can be accessed by submitting paperwork with state and federal authorities. Individuals promoting this scam frequently cite bogus legal theories and may refer to the scheme as “Redemption” or “Strawman.” This scheme, which repeatedly has been rejected by courts, predominately uses fraudulent financial documents that appear to be legitimate.
The Mortons sold the bond scheme to others who were in debt to governmental organizations, such as the IRS and the State of California, and private bank institutions for mortgage or credit card debt. The Mortons charged their clients thousands of dollars to prepare and file useless UCC-1 documents declaring their clients’ “strawman” status, and to prepare and send false bonds to the government or banks which purported to pay off the clients’ debt. “The total amounts of the check/bonds [the Mortons] made and passed are astronomical – the principal amounts of said instruments range from $50,000 to $10 million,” according to court documents.
In sentencing briefs filed with the court, prosecutors said Sean Morton “touted he was a ‘paper terrorist’ when giving seminars regarding his schemes,” and he harassed and burdened the “courts with mountains of frivolous paperwork…in an effort to degrade the court system over time and make it more difficult to efficiently resolve cases, especially tax cases.”
The evidence presented at trial also showed that the Mortons filed income tax returns with the IRS that falsely claimed they had income from various banking institutions reported on Forms 1099-OID. As part of the scheme, the Mortons falsely reported large withholdings and claimed they were owed refunds from the IRS.
As a result of the scheme, the IRS erroneously issued a refund of $480,322.55 to Sean Morton for a 2008 income tax return. On the same day the refund was deposited into the Mortons’ joint bank account, the couple took immediate steps to conceal the money, which included opening two new accounts, transferring over $360,000 to the two new accounts, and withdrawing $70,000 in cash.
When the IRS took steps to collect the erroneous refund, the Mortons began a campaign to thwart the government’s collection efforts. Specifically, when the IRS placed a levy on the couple’s joint bank account, the couple repeatedly sent letters to the IRS that falsely claimed it was Melissa Morton’s sole and separate account.
When the IRS attempted to collect the erroneous refund from the Mortons, the Mortons presented to the IRS various “coupons” and “bonds” that purported to pay off their debt with the IRS. The Mortons created and submitted these bogus documents to the IRS, instructing the agency to draw upon funds with the United States Treasury to satisfy their debt.
While sentencing Sean Morton, Judge Wilson said his conduct “caused a serious disruption” to the tax system and “caused others to engage in fraudulent conduct.”
“The scheme, while outrageous, was also calculated,” Judge Wilson said.
Sean Morton was originally scheduled to be sentenced on June 19, but he failed to appear in court and was a fugitive for 61 days. During that time, Sean Morton “flagrantly flouted the law, appeared on social media, his radio program, and YouTube to brag about his status as a fugitive,” according to court papers filed by prosecutors. Soon after her husband fled, Melissa Morton was ordered not to have any contact with her husband.
The Mortons were arrested on August 21, 2017 while observing the solar eclipse poolside at a hotel in Desert Hot Springs. The following day, a United States Magistrate Judge found that they had violated the terms of their release on bond and ordered them detained.
“This is a case where the defendants clearly engaged in a systematic effort to impede the tax system, undermine the efforts of prosecutors, and, in the case of Sean Morton, avoid sentencing after being convicted by a jury of his peers,” said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown. “This case sends a clear message that we will spare no effort to preserve the integrity of this nation’s institutions. The lengthy sentences also demonstrate that illegal efforts to use bogus legal theories in an effort to defraud fellow taxpayers will not be tolerated.”
“The Mortons’ blatant disrespect for the law will now cost them years of valuable freedom,” stated IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge R. Damon Rowe. “Today’s sentencing shows how seriously the courts take those individuals who attempt to lead others down a perilous financial and legal path, in addition to devising illegal tax schemes to obtain refunds to which they are not entitled.”
Morton was sentenced by and by United States District Judge Stephen V. Wilson.
The investigation of the Mortons was conducted by IRS Criminal Investigation.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Valerie Makarewicz and James C. Hughes of the Tax Division.