(Oak Ridge Today/WYSH staff reports) Five so-called “sovereign citizens” from Anderson County, including Lee Cromwell of Oak Ridge, were convicted of more than 200 counts in Nashville this week in a case where the defendants had been accused of filing fraudulent liens against local and state officials in East Tennessee, including judges, prosecutors, and police officers in Anderson County.
Seven sovereign citizens from Anderson County had been charged in February 2017 with forgery and filing liens without a legal basis, Seventh Judicial District Attorney General Dave Clark said in a press release Thursday. Those charges came after an investigation that had been requested by Clark and was conducted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Many of the cases were tried in Nashville, and a jury returned a verdict this week of guilty on all counts, Clark said. Clark and his wife were both victims of the fraudulent liens, so Clark had requested another district attorney general to prosecute the case.
“As the liens were filed electronically at the Secretary of State’s Office in Nashville, it made sense to have the defendants indicted and prosecuted in Davidson County,” Clark said.
A Davidson County jury deliberated a little more than two hours this week before returning guilty verdicts against five of the self-styled “sovereign citizens,” Clark said. The defendants were Austin Gary Cooper, Lee Harold Cromwell, Christopher Alan Hauser, Ronald James Lyons, and James Michael Usinger. They were convicted on a total of 204 counts, which included 102 counts of filing fraudulent liens and 102 counts of forgery over the value of $250,000.
Among local officials who had liens filed against them by Cromwell were Clark; Anderson County Criminal Court Judge Don Elledge, who had to recuse himself from the vehicular homicide case; Anderson County General Sessions Court Judge Roger Miller; Anderson County Circuit Court Clerk William Jones; prosecutor Vickie Bannach; Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi; and police officers Ben Higgins and Grant Gouldie.
The fraudulent liens first started becoming public when Elledge recused himself during an arraignment in June 2016 because of an $8 million lien filed against him by Cromwell. The office of the Seventh Judicial District Attorney General was also briefly recused from the case because of liens filed by Cromwell.
After the investigation into the fraudulent liens, one defendant died, and some entered guilty pleas before the trial and convictions in Nashville this week, Clark said Thursday.
Sentencing for the five defendants who were convicted this week is scheduled for June 27. Each defendant faces a minimum sentence of 15 years, and maximum possible sentences range from 378 to 810 years, Clark said.
“Sovereign citizens are associated with a philosophy that they do not have to abide by our laws because they have declared their personal independence from government and our country,” Clark said. “They are often associated with not paying taxes, refusing to register their vehicles or obtain driver’s licenses, and refusing to recognize government authority, including law enforcement. When challenged, they frequently retaliate personally against government employees by filing baseless liens or legal claims.”