Cromwell, 10 others indicted in fake lien investigation

Feb. 16, 2017: 11 people face multiple charges of filing false liens following a year-long investigation.

NASHVILLE - Authorities have announced a 320-count indictment against 11 East Tennessee residents accused of filing false liens. 

On Thursday, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation revealed the results of its year-long investigation with the Knoxville FBI division. 

The defendants targeted victims solely because of their jobs, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The victims included government employees, police officers, attorneys, and elected officials. 

Investigators determined the liens ranged between $4 and $12 million. 

TBI described the suspects as having "sovereign citizen ideology." 

Those individuals reject the concept of U.S. citizenship and governmental authority, TBI Deputy Director Jason Locke explained. Sometimes those individuals declare separation from the United States and use terms to identify themselves as "individuals seeking the truth," " free man," or "flesh and blood person," Locked added.  

The practice of filing fraudulent liens, often for millions of dollars, against government officials is a common sovereign tactic, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which calls it ‘paper terrorism.’

One of the most notable arrests is Lee Cromwell, from Anderson County.

On Wednesday, Cromwell was convicted of vehicular homicide after investigators said he ran his truck into several people in a parking lot following a July 4, 2015, fireworks celebration in Oak Ridge. 

By filing liens against county officials, the judge in Cromwell’s case was forced to recuse himself, which originally delayed the proceedings. 

RELATED: FBI discusses sovereign citizen movement, 'paper terrorism' 

Because these liens were filed with the Secretary of State's Office in Nashville, District Attorney General Glenn Funk will handle the prosecution. 

“These bogus liens are a nuisance that has risen to the level of menace,” Funk said. He added that they will fully prosecute these cases. 

According to Funk there is pending legislation that would give the Secretary of State the authority to not accept false liens. Right now, they are legally required to accept and file them.

Ten of the 11 individuals named in the indictment were picked up on Wednesday during simultaneous arrests in Anderson, Cocke, Greene, and Knox Counties. Most were then transported and booked in the Davidson County Jail. 

Fake liens can have a devastating impact on victims including making it hard to establish credit or refinance a house, district attorney Funk explained.  

Fake liens are nothing new to Tennessee but TBI's director said they decided something had to be done now. 

“Someone had to take action or there would be no end to this,” TBI Director Mark Gwyn said. 

Individuals named in the indictment:

  • Michael Robert Birdsell, 54, Andersonville -  8 counts Draw a Lien without a Legal Basis, 8 counts Forgery $250,000 or more. Bond $150,000.
  • Austin Gary Cooper, 68, Clinton - 10 counts Draw a Lien without a Legal Basis, 10 counts Forgery $250,000 or more. Bond $150,000
  • Lee Harold Cromwell, 67, Oak Ridge - 14 counts Draw a Lien without a Legal Basis, 14 counts Forgery $250,000 or more. Bond $150,000.
  • Victor Douglas Bunch, 72, Powell - 17 counts Draw a Lien without a Legal Basis, 17 counts Forgery $250,000 or more. Bond $150,000.
  • Christopher Alan Hauser, 51, Del Rio - 21 counts Draw a Lien without a Legal Basis, 21 counts Forgery $250,000 or more. Bond $150,000.
  • Ronald James Lyons, 52, Newport - 30 counts Draw a Lien without a Legal Basis, 30 counts Forgery $250,000 or more. Bond $150,000.
  • James Michael Usinger, 64, Greeneville - 22 counts Draw a Lien without a Legal Basis, 22 counts Forgery $250,000 or more. Bond $150,000.
  • John Jeffrey Williams, 50, Powell - 3 counts Draw a Lien without a Legal Basis, 3 counts Forgery $250,000 or more. Bond $25,000.
  • George Edward Williams, 76 Powell - 3 counts Draw a Lien without a Legal Basis, 3 counts Forgery $250,000 or more. Bond $25,000. 
  • Kenneth Ray Foust, 73, Clinton - 3 counts Draw a Lien without a Legal Basis, 3 counts Forgery $250,000 or more. Bond $25,000. 

© 2017 WBIR.COM


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