M. Elizabeth Broderick, a disciple of the so-called "freemen" and self-described "lien queen" who told hundreds of followers they could wipe out their debts with checks purportedly drawn against the U.S. government, was convicted Friday on 26 charges of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering.
Broderick, 52, of Palmdale, who represented herself during her five-week federal trial and repeatedly contended that she is a political prisoner, sat silently as the verdicts, which could result in a sentence of more than 200 years in prison, were read.
Two men accused of assisting Broderick in the check fraud scheme, Canyon Country resident Barry Switzer and former Reseda chiropractor Julian Cheney, were also convicted on conspiracy and fraud charges. Cheney was convicted on 16 counts, Switzer on 11.
"Behind Ms. Broderick's anti-government rhetoric was a classic con artist," U.S. Atty. Nora Manella said after the verdicts. "She appealed principally to financially strapped people who wanted something for nothing. They wound up further in debt and she wound up a convicted felon."
Broderick and her accomplices were accused of issuing $800 million in phony, homemade checks--which she called "comptroller's warrants"--at seminars held in the Antelope Valley, San Bernardino County and across the Southland between October 1995 and April 1996. During that time, Broderick and her accomplices issued 8,000 warrants for more than $800 million, making her the "largest producer of these fraudulent warrants in the United States," federal prosecutor Aaron Dyer said.
Broderick's customers paid up to $200 to attend her seminars and another $100 each for checks written for any amount and signed by Broderick. She told them that the checks were backed by more than $1 billion in liens she had lodged against the federal government and various officials who, in her estimation, had violated her rights. She advised clients to use the checks to pay off mortgages, credit cards and other debts, prosecutors said.
Although most of the phony checks were rejected, some unsuspecting banks and creditors honored them, and Broderick and her helpers netted $1.2 million by cashing the documents, prosecutors said.
During the trial, Broderick refused to acknowledge the court's jurisdiction over her, and in testimony that often seemed to adopt the tone of one of her seminars, she tried to sell the jury on her scenario that the government secretly went bankrupt in 1933 and has been defrauding its citizens ever since.
But Dyer told the jury that Broderick did not believe her own rhetoric. Her claims of being a "sovereign" who had renounced her U.S. citizenship were merely a front for a scam in which she lured vulnerable people who "wanted to believe that they could pay off thousands of dollars in debt for a $100 fee," Dyer said.
Dyer said Broderick kept both her Social Security card and her California driver's license--evidence that she acknowledged the government's authority over her. "She's not serious about this," he said.
Before her arrest by federal agents in April, the Canadian-born Broderick had already made headlines for spreading principles associated with the "freemen," the separatist group that engaged FBI agents in a months-long standoff in Montana, during her seminars. Before launching her own seminars in California, Broderick was schooled at a seminar on check-writing techniques taught by freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer in Montana, prosecutors said.
Before coming to California, she was convicted of running a pyramid scheme in Colorado.
Judge Dickran Tevrizian said Broderick, Cheney and Switzer will be sentenced Jan. 6. Attorneys for Cheney and Switzer, who claimed during the trial that their clients followed Broderick because they believed in Freemen principles and unwittingly participated in the crimes, both said they intend to file motions for new trials.
Following the verdicts, testimony began in the second phase of the trial, in which federal prosecutors must prove that assets accumulated by several businesses Broderick operated were purchased with illegally earned money and should therefore be forfeited to the government. The assets include $1.2 million in cash, two cars, eight computers and other equipment allegedly bought with seminar proceeds, Dyer said.
A fourth defendant in the case, Adolf Karl Hoch, 52, pleaded guilty in August to all 15 counts against him for his involvement in the bogus check operation and now faces up to 165 years in prison. Laura Hoey, another Broderick associate, faces federal trial on similar charges Nov. 5.