Maryland law punishes those who wreak 'fiscal terror'

Photo - US Currency: Wads of US bills fastened with rubber bands, close-up
US Currency: Wads of US bills fastened with rubber bands, close-up
Local,Maryland,Andy Brownfield

A new Maryland law punishes those who file false financial claims against state residents, a tactic used by anti-government extremists to ruin the finances of public officials.

The law stemmed from cases where anti-government "sovereign citizens" had filed fraudulent liens against public officials -- often prosecutors and law enforcement -- in retaliation for perceived wrongs.

Montgomery County Assistant State's Attorney Carol Crawford, head of the Special Prosecutions Division, was the target of one of those liens.

Crawford prosecuted one sovereign citizen -- a member of one of many loosely affiliated groups classified by the FBI as domestic terrorists who reject the idea that governments have the power to impose their will on people -- who was found guilty of forging the Maryland State Seal and former Secretary of State Mary Kane's signature while trying to cash a fraudulent $300,000 tax return.

The man then filed a lien, claiming Crawford owed him $1.3 million.

Crawford hasn't been able to remove the claim, despite contacting the state Department of Assessments and Taxation and the Internal Revenue Service. She was told she would have to contact the man -- who is now in federal prison -- and notify him she is challenging the lien.

"I told them I would absolutely not do that," Crawford told the House Judiciary Committee during a hearing. "That's exactly what they want, to engage you and get a rise out of you."

Bill sponsor Del. Sam Arora, D-Montgomery County, said it's easy for the liens to be filed -- all it takes is some paperwork and $25. He said the authenticity of the liens aren't verified before they are filed.

Having a fraudulent claim for millions of dollars can ruin a person's credit.

"Some of this stuff is so easily patently bogus, but it still messes with your credit," Arora said. "It affects your credit, your ability to refinance your house, sometimes your ability to get a job."

The law makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 for the first offense. Subsequent offenders can face prison sentences of up to five years, though the fine remains up to $10,000. It applies to fraudulent liens filed against any Marylander, not just public officials.

Arora said the law isn't perfect -- Marylanders still won't be notified if a lien was filed against them. He said lawmakers plan to address that issue during next year's legislative session.

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