TAMPA, Fla. — A prisoner serving 20 years for attempted murder recently wrote that Ken Burke, Pinellas Circuit Court clerk, should immediately release him from prison. In another case, the prisoner claimed Burke was liable for $50 million.
The clerk’s office filed suit against the prisoner, saying his filings were false and fraudulent. Burke also filed suit to have those documents removed from the court system.
"I can't speak for the person who filed this. I assume he has a lot of time in his hands," Burke told the Tampa Bay Times. "It really is just a nuisance of our time to have to face these items."
Burke’s case is not the only one being litigated in Florida.
In the past two years, the Florida Attorney General's Office has defended 21 judges, prosecutors, clerks, and other officials in fraudulent cases involving sovereign citizens.
Ryan Lenz of the Southern Poverty Law Center told the Tampa Bay Times that this a pretty common tactic used by sovereign citizens.
Sovereign citizens are anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in the United States, they are separate or “sovereign” from the U.S., according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In 2013, the Florida Legislature passed a law that permits people who are named in such filings to request that clerk's offices expunge those records. It also created criminal penalties for filing false documents, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. In the past two years, approximately 25 people have been charged with this crime, according to statewide data.
As a result, they believe they don’t have to answer to any government authority, including courts, taxing entities, motor vehicle departments or law enforcement.
This causes all kinds of problems and crimes.
Many sovereign citizens don’t pay their taxes. They consider courts that issue warrants for judges and police officers to be illegal. They clog up the court system with frivolous lawsuits and liens against public officials to harass them, and they use fake money orders and personal checks at government agencies, banks and businesses.
The FBI says it has had a number of investigative successes involving sovereign citizens.
In Kansas City, three sovereign citizens were recently convicted of taking part in a conspiracy using phony diplomatic credentials. Two sovereign citizens in Sacramento, Calif. were recently convicted of running a fraudulent insurance scheme. In Las Vegas, four men affiliated with the sovereign citizen movement were arrested by the Nevada Joint Terrorism Task Force on federal money laundering, tax evasion and weapons charges.