Last May, Gunther Glaub was found guilty of making false claims after he submitted $1.7 million in debts to the USDA, including $73,000 for a Corvette, $65,000 for a Camaro bill, and a student loan owed to the U.S. Department of Education. Glaub included a note with the debts, politely asking the USDA to settle his debts.
While he faced a hefty prison sentence, Glaub was eventually fined $500, given five years’ probation and ordered to do 100 hours of community service.
In its February 2017 press release, the Department of Justice hyperbolized Glaub’s crime as an attempt “to use stolen government money to buy expensive cars and pay student loans.”
The FBI reportedly believed that Glaub was a member of the Sovereign Citizens – a broad term for individuals who deny the legitimacy of the U.S. government and acknowledge only common law.
On its website, the FBI lists Sovereign Citizens as a domestic terrorist movement that causes “all kinds of problems – and crimes. For example, many sovereign citizens don’t pay their taxes. They hold illegal courts that issue warrants for judges and police officers. They clog up the court system with frivolous lawsuits and liens against public officials to harass them.”
The FBI labels such acts as “paper terrorism.”
Sovereign Citizens believe there is a loophole in the system that allows the federal government to settle individuals’ private debts.
Glaub’s attorneys later clarified that he never took the stand and never testified to being a member of the Sovereign Citizens movement.
“That was not a fact in the case,” said defense attorney Laura Wolf with the firm Rathmod Mohamedbahi. Given that the FBI’s report was titled “Sovereign Citizen Investigation,” Wolf said Glaub was being prosecuted as if he were a member and likened prosecuting a Sovereign Citizen for his political beliefs to Sen. Joseph McCarthy targeting Communists in the 1950s.
Honing in on the false claim, the trial court barred Glaub from presenting a First Amendment claim or arguing that his petition – whether political or not – was protected.
When Senior Circuit Judge Michael Murphy asked U.S. Attorney James Murphy whether Glaub’s actions amounted to paper terrorism, the attorney seemed unfamiliar with the term and said that it wasn’t argued during the trial.
He then outlined the lengths Glaub went to defraud the government, including sending actual money orders and bills, but Circuit Judge Carolyn McHugh cut him off.
“What in that was false? I think it’s ridiculous that this case wasn’t dismissed,” McHugh said.
She also wondered aloud how difficult it would have been to throw Glaub’s letters in the trash.
“I read this and wondered, ‘Don’t you have something better to do?’” McHugh said to the prosecutor. “It’s not fraud. It’s silly, it’s ridiculous, but it’s not fraud.”
Chief Circuit Judge Timothy Tymkovich rounded out the panel, which did not indicate when it would rule.