April 8, 2010 - MINNEAPOLIS—B. Todd Jones, U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, announced today that one of the original founders of the Montana Freeman, a militia group that rejects the authority of the federal government, has been sentenced in federal court in Minnesota for retaliating against three federal judges. Earlier this afternoon in St. Paul, Minn., U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank sentenced Daniel E. Petersen, age 67, presently incarcerated at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Oak Park Heights, Minn., to 90 months in prison on six counts of filing a false lien or encumbrance against a federal judge.
Petersen was prosecuted under a 2008 federal anti-retaliation law that makes it a felony to retaliate against any government officer by filing false liens against him or her. The case, brought under 18 U.S.C. 1521, was the first prosecution of its kind nationwide. Petersen was indicted on April 8, 2009, and was convicted by a trial jury on Oct. 22, 2009.
Following today’s sentencing, U.S. Attorney Jones said, “Over the years, Petersen and his accomplices have repeatedly broken the law in an effort to enrich themselves. Those who have tried to stop them, including members of law enforcement and the judiciary, have been singled out for retaliation. This prosecution, hopefully, will impress upon Petersen and others that, regardless of their beliefs, they will be prosecuted if they break the law, and their attempts at retaliation or intimidation will not succeed.”
U.S. Marshal Sharon Lubinski added, “The U.S. Marshals Service remains vigilant to threats against our judicial system, and this case is an example of our work and that vigilance.”
According to the evidence presented at his trial, Petersen was one of the original founders of the Montana Freeman, which formed its own government or “state,” called Justus Township, on a Montana ranch in the mid-1990s. At that time, the group funded itself by issuing phony checks, supposedly backed by a $77 million lien against a local judge. Creditors who refused to honor the checks were subjected to intimidation.
In 1996, Petersen and 13 other group members were indicted for bank fraud, conspiracy, false claims, threats against federal officials, and Hobbs Act robbery. Petersen and another man were arrested first, as a result of a FBI ruse. The remaining Freemen engaged in a 81-day standoff with the FBI before giving up peacefully. Petersen was ultimately convicted on 19 of 20 counts and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
While serving his sentence in a federal correctional facility in Minnesota, Petersen devised a plan to retaliate against Judge Coughenour, the judge from Washington who ordered him incarcerated, as well as two other federal judges. In the process, Petersen also planned to make some money.
His plan called for “inventing” a company he claimed held assets that included a $100 trillion default judgment against the U.S. He raised money by selling fellow inmates and others “shares” in the non-existing company. Those shares were supposedly backed by “redemption certificates,” which, according to Petersen, could be redeemed as soon as he collected the judgment owed him by the government.His so-called judgment had been obtained after then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright declined to respond to his 10-page, handwritten demand for $100 trillion, plus $1 billion per day in interest, for unlawfully confining him. He obtained the judgment by default through the Common Law Court of Justus Township, a “court” of his own creation. With his judgment in hand, Petersen began filing liens against real property owned by the three federal judges. Apparently, he rationalized that, as government officers, they were financially liable for his judgment against the U.S. He also filed with the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office “bounties” for the arrest of the judges, offering rewards to anyone who brought the three to Minnesota to answer his liens.
Petersen was warned repeatedly while in custody that his actions were unlawful, but he persisted. As a result, in 2009, the current charges were brought against him. His trial lasted three days, during which time, Petersen represented himself in court.
This case was the result of an investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey S. Paulsen and W. Anders Folk.