PHOENIX -- Tom Martell sits in the federal penitentiary at Las
Vegas, a prisoner of conscience.
The Arizona tax rebel had no criminal record before his
in January. Then the Gila County reserve sheriff's deputy defied
Uncle Sam and lost.
Martell has been torn from his wife and stepchildren. He owes
$218,000 in back taxes and penalties. His masonry company in Payson
is gone. Upon release in June, he faces five years of house arrest
Martell's crime, prosecuted in the U.S. District Court: failure to
file federal income tax returns.
"I fought the good fight, but I understand now that as a Christian
I must submit to them," Martell, 53, said in a recent phone
interview. "Had I anticipated the atrocity I would be exposed to, I
wouldn't have done it."
Martell is not alone in challenging the government's authority to
impose and collect income taxes.
The U.S. Treasury loses an estimated $130 billion each year
because of citizens who underpay or file no return. One IRS official
recently told Congress that hundreds of thousands of tax protesters
file blank 1040 forms, or none at all.
A bulletin on the World Wide Web, advertising one of many anti-IRS
books, proclaims: "Lawfully!!! STOP paying income taxes. The United
States government is a foreign corporation in respect to the other
Most of the hard-core resisters are ultraconservative, middle-age,
white, professed-Christian males. Call them Freemen or
constitutionalists. By whatever name, they combine a phobia of the
feds with heroic notions of defeating "the beast": the IRS.
They view the agency as an arm of a global conspiracy, involving
the United Nations, the Trilateral Commission, the Federal Reserve
Board, communists and Jews.
The most rabid disclaim citizenship, renounce Social Security
numbers, spurn driver's licenses and repudiate federal authority.
One of them, Irwin Schiff, so hates the IRS that he's entered the
presidential race on the Libertarian ticket.
"Let me tell you something," said Schiff, 67, of Las Vegas, author
of How Anybody Can Stop Paying Income Taxes. "Income tax is
collected on the basis of fraud, extortion and ignorance."
Besides shunning tax laws, some resisters turn to violence or
harassment of federal officials. The most radical have bombed IRS
offices and killed federal agents.
A leader of the Pilot Connection Society, a notorious anti-tax
group, filed phony liens against the property of revenue agents and
federal judges. Last year, six leaders of the group, including
Douglas Carpa of Phoenix, were convicted on felony counts, including
tax evasion and mail fraud.
Michael Yamaguchi, U.S. attorney for northern California,
described the Pilot Society leaders as rip-off artists who bilked
consumers for $10 million and cost Americans $150 million in lost
"The requirement to file tax returns and pay income tax, state or
federal, is not a law that a person can choose to ignore," Yamaguchi
warned. "The so-called `Patriot Untax Community' is hereby put on
While thousands of rebels refuse to file taxes, IRS officials
admit that few are prosecuted. The agency has launched 340 criminal
investigations against tax resisters since 1993, winning 162
Timothy Lee, chief of criminal investigations in the Phoenix
office, said Arizona does not seem to be a hotbed, despite the
state's reputation as a haven for self-styled "sovereign citizens."
In the past three years, he said, there have been seven
convictions in Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada. Most evaders are
pursued in civil court.
"These things go in cycles," Lee added. "I think it (resistance)
is definitely higher profile than it was a few years ago.
"If somebody's telling you that you can be untaxed, I guess that's
the word, hang onto your wallet."
America's first income tax, aimed at the wealthy, began and ended
with the Civil War. A subsequent levy in the 1890s was ruled