COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA — U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles stated that Jerry Elmo Hartsoe, age 57, of West Columbia, South Carolina; James Chappel Dew, 59 of North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Mark Shannon Manuel, 49 of Franklin, Tennessee, were sentenced to 10 years’ incarceration by U.S. District Judge Cameron McGowan Currie of Columbia for their convictions on eight counts of mail fraud.
Facts presented at trial proved that the three men defrauded victims through their West Columbia business, Eden Gifted Properties. The men claimed to be able to eliminate their customers’ debt using a series of secret government accounts.
According to the testimony presented in the case, Hartsoe, Manuel and Dew claimed to have access to a secret government account worth approximately $100 billion. For a fee or “donation” of 10 percent of the value of the debt, the men claimed to be able to satisfy and pay off mortgages, credit cards and any other types of debt. Using connections within various religious and political groups, the defendants traveled across the United States to host seminars and presentations. After identifying potential victims at these seminars and presentations, the defendants would solicit several thousand dollars from each victim and begin mailing a series of bogus documents to banks and other lenders. Witnesses testified that the men encouraged customers to seek cash advances from credit cards and to raid retirement accounts in order to pay Eden Gifted Properties’ fees. The court found that the men took over $675,000.00 from their victims and intended to cause over $83 million in losses to banks and other financial institutions.
Claims made by the men during the trial and during sentencing are similar to arguments presented by so-called “sovereign citizens.” “Sovereign citizens” are U.S. citizens who reject their citizenship status and claim that the government is operating outside of its jurisdiction. They generally do not recognize the authority of federal, state or local governments and renounce their obligation to adhere to the laws, policies or regulations created by those governments.
The investigation and convictions were pursued in furtherance of the U.S. government’s national strategy aimed at disrupting the criminal activity of individuals claiming to be sovereign citizens.