SANTA ANA — Radical antigovernment protesters have papered Orange County government with bogus checks in recent weeks, apparently trying to pay their property taxes with novel financial tools learned from the Montana "freemen."
County Treasurer-Tax Collector John M.W. Moorlach said Tuesday that his office has received at least two dozen so-called comptroller warrants, which the senders claim are the equivalent of personal checks backed by the U.S. Treasury.
Moorlach said he has rejected them all.
"I'll take cash, personal checks or money orders, but not these," Moorlach said. "I can't take these to a bank. It's 'thanks, but no thanks.' "
State and federal investigators suspect the phony checks were written by people with ties to the Montana freeman, a group of anti-government protesters suspected of financial fraud.
The Orange County group, believed to number about 90, has drawn the attention of investigators since its leaders recently notified Fullerton Municipal Judge Luis A. Rodriguez that they planned to conduct a "common law court session" to determine whether he has the right to sit as a judge.
Records show that the group, which calls itself Our One Supreme Court, has also gathered information on nine other local judges.
The comptroller warrants, some of which are written for more than $12,000, are not backed by any bank or financial institution. They claim to be supported by the U.S. Treasury and redeemable at any U.S. post office.
"These are not negotiable," Moorlach said.
Moorlach said he has returned the warrants and hasn't heard back from any of the senders.
"I thought they were misguided individuals," he said.
Anti-government protesters have sent similar warrants to tax collectors in San Diego County, records show.
Some warrants were written for far more than the amount actually owed in property taxes. In letters accompanying the checks, the writers ask that the difference be returned to them in cash.
Moorlach declined to release the names of the people who sent the fake checks.
But some of the checks carried the signature of Elizabeth Broderick, who has been linked to the Montana freemen and is now in federal custody on fraud charges. Broderick was arrested in Palmdale late last month on suspicion of fraudulently taking $1.5 million. She is alleged to have organized seminars at which she promoted the use of homemade checks, supposedly backed by liens against government officials.
Broderick asserts that she is beyond the jurisdiction of the federal courts.
"I am putting you on notice that you are proceeding without jurisdiction or venue," Broderick told a Los Angeles judge at a hearing last week.
Other checks sent to the Orange County treasurer tax-collector's office were signed "LeRoy Schweitzer," the name of a prominent figure in the Montana group who was arrested in March on suspicion of bank fraud. His arrest helped trigger the standoff between the Montana freemen and federal authorities.
The letters and documents sent to Moorlach contain the phrasing and baroque diction typical of the freemen and other anti-government groups.
One comptroller warrant, dated Feb. 25, refers to the "Treasurer united states of America." The use of the lower-case in referring to the United States is common among some anti-government groups.
In a letter signed by Broderick and sent to the U.S. postmaster general, Broderick is referred to as:
"M. Elizabeth Broderick, sui juris, Sovereign by the Grace of Yahvehshua (Yashua) Our Savior and Redeemer . . . Palmdale, country of California state, March Six, Nineteen Hundred Ninety Six, A.D."
Times staff writer Davan Maharaj contributed to this report.
* 'FREEMEN' ADVOCATE
O.C. woman on U.S. marshal's list declares sovereignty. B4