COLUMBIA, SC (WMBF) – A North Myrtle man was one of three men convicted Friday of defrauding hundreds of thousands of dollars from over 250 people by traveling the country and claiming to be able to eliminate their customers' debt using a series of secret government accounts.
James Chappel Dew, 59, of North Myrtle Beach, Jerry Elmo Hartsoe, age 57, of West Columbia, and Mark Shannon Manuel, age 49 of Franklin, Tennessee were found guilty after a jury trial on eight counts of mail fraud, according to a news release from the office of the US Attorney, District of South Carolina.
According to trial testimony, the three men claimed to have access to a secret government account worth about $100 billion, and for a fee or "donation" of 10 percent of the debt, the men claimed they could satisfy and pay off mortgages, credit cards, and other types of debt.
The men traveled across the United States to host seminars and presentations, would solicit several thousands of dollars from each victim, and then mailed a series of bogus documents to banks and other lenders, according to the news release.
Witnesses testified that customers were encouraged to seek cash advances from credit cards and to raid retirements to pay the fees. "Many of the customers have been subject to foreclosure and have now lost their homes," the release states.
During the trial, the men presented arguments similar to those of so-called "sovereign citizens," rejecting their citizenship status and claiming the government is operating outside 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," officials stated.
The sentencing for this case has been scheduled for May 14, 2014. Each of the three men faces up to 30 years in prison and fines of $250,000.