United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
PRESENT: Honorable Gerald E. Rosen Chief Judge, United States District Court
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS INDICTMENT
AT A SESSION OF SAID COURT, HELD IN THE U.S. COURTHOUSE, DETROIT, MICHIGAN ON
JULY 14, 2015
GERALD E. ROSEN, Chief District Judge.
Defendants Johnnie Denham, Jr. and Vernon Lawson, along with three other defendants, are named in a March 4, 2014 indictment that alleges a scheme to file false claims for income tax refunds with the federal Internal Revenue Service ("IRS"). Specifically, Defendant Denham is charged in eight counts of the eleven-count indictment with (i) conspiracy to defraud the Government in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 286 (Count One), (ii) two counts of preparing and filing false claims in his own name with the IRS, an agency of the United States Department of Treasury, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 287 (Counts Two and Eight), and (iii) five counts of aiding and abetting in the preparation and filing of false claims against the United States in the names of others, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 287 and 2 (Counts Four, Six, Seven, Ten, and Eleven). Defendant Lawson, in turn, is charged in four counts of the indictment with (i) conspiracy to defraud the Government in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 286 (Count One), (ii) filing a false claim in his own name with the IRS, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 287 (Count Three), and (iii) two counts of aiding and abetting in the preparation and filing of a false claim against the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 287 and 2 (Counts Six and Seven). Each of these two Defendants has invoked his right to represent himself in this case, but the Court has appointed standby counsel to assist these Defendants in representing themselves.
Through the present pro se motions and other submissions, Defendants Denham and Lawson each seek the dismissal of the charges against them. Each of these Defendants has previously filed pro se motions to dismiss the indictment,  and the Court has denied these motions in rulings issued on July 10 and September 17, 2014. As discussed below, and as stated at a July 13, 2015 hearing, the present motions raise many of the same or similar issues as those advanced in Defendants' earlier motions, along with new challenges that continue to evidence the pro se Defendants' lack of understanding of the procedures that govern criminal proceedings in federal court. Consequently, for the reasons stated on the record at the July 13 hearing, as supplemented by the rulings below, the Court denies Defendants' motions as wholly lacking in merit.
A. Defendant Lawson's Renewed Motion to Dismiss the Indictment
Defendant Lawson's present motion consists largely of recitations of general background principles of criminal law and procedure, and is somewhat unclear in its identification of any purported grounds for dismissing the indictment in this case. It appears, however, that Defendant Lawson means to challenge the indictment on two grounds: (i) that it was not signed by the grand jury foreperson or an attorney for the Government, as required under Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(c) and 7(c)(1), and (ii) that a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office in connection with the indictment of Defendant Lawson and his four co-defendants was an improper "report" issued by the grand jury in excess of its legal authority.
Defendant Lawson's first challenge rests upon his contention that "there exists no indictment [in this case] signed by both [the] Special Grand Jury Foreman and the United States Attorney." (Defendant Lawson's 10/17/2014 Motion to Dismiss at 5.) As Defendant observes, Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(c) dictates that the grand jury foreperson "will sign all indictments, " and Fed. R. Crim. P. 7(c)(1) requires that an indictment "must be signed by an attorney for the government." Defendant's assertion that these signatures are lacking here presumably rests upon his review of the copy of the indictment that appears on the electronic court docket in this case, which discloses only "s/" signatures for the (unidentified) "Foreperson of the Grand Jury" and for two Assistant U.S. Attorneys, Ross MacKenzie (the head of the Complex Crimes Unit) and Craig Weier (the lead prosecutor in this case). Yet, the absence of original signatures on this electronic copy of the indictment plainly does not establish that the grand jury foreperson and Assistant U.S. Attorneys failed to sign the original indictment. To the contrary, a review of this original indictment, as maintained in the clerk's office and produced for inspection by Defendant and his standby counsel at the July 13, 2015 hearing, confirms that it bears these required signatures. Accordingly, this challenge to the indictment lacks any factual basis.
In a related challenge, Defendant Lawson suggests that an indictment is deficient unless it bears the signature of " the attorney for the United States, " (Defendant Lawson's 10/17/2014 Motion to Dismiss at 7 (emphasis added)), and he apparently views the signature of an Assistant U.S. Attorney, as opposed to the U.S. Attorney herself, as inadequate to satisfy this posited requirement. The rule that he cites, however, demands only the signature of " an attorney for the government, " Fed. R. Crim. P. 7(c)(1) (emphasis added), and an Assistant U.S. Attorney's signature plainly fulfills the obligation imposed by this rule.
Finally, Defendant Lawson apparently contends that a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office following the grand jury's return of the indictment in this case should be viewed as a "report" issued by the grand jury to the public, and he evidently maintains that the grand jury thereby exceeded the statutory authority that permits a "special grand jury" to submit a report of its investigation "to the court." (Defendant Lawson's 10/17/2014 Motion to Dismiss at 8 (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 3333(a)).) This challenge, however, rests upon the false premise that the grand jury issued the press release in question. In fact, this press release states on its face that it was issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, ( see Defendant Lawson's 10/17/2014 Motion to Dismiss, Ex. A, 3/4/2014 Press Release), so it plainly is not subject to the statutory limitations imposed upon the reports of a special grand jury. Moreover, to the extent that Defendant Lawson means to suggest that this press release somehow brought about the improper public disclosure of information that is protected by the rules ensuring the secrecy of grand jury proceedings, see Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(e)(2), the Government correctly observes in response that the press release includes only information that was already part of the public record at the time, such as (i) the fact that the five Defendants in this case had been indicted, and (ii) the charges and allegations contained in this indictment. Thus, Defendant Lawson has failed to identify anything unlawful about this press release, much less any grounds for dismissing the indictment in light of this press release.
B. Defendant Denham's "Motions" To Dismiss the Charges Against Him
Defendant Denham's more recent submissions to the Court, like his earlier ones addressed at a September 17, 2014 hearing and in an order issued the same day, continue to consist largely of sweeping assertions of "law" - or, perhaps more accurately, a hodgepodge of legalese - as culled by Defendant from such sources as the "Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1836 A.D. Between Morocco and the United States" and the "United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People." Consequently, it is difficult to discern the precise nature of the challenges he seeks to pursue. Nonetheless, it appears that Defendant Denham seeks the dismissal of the charges against him on the grounds (i) that the Court lacks jurisdiction over him in light of his claimed status as an "Aboriginal Indigenous Moorish-American, " (ii) that the Government is in "default" due to its failure to produce various materials demanded by Defendant, including the Court's oath of office, an oath or affirmation of probable cause under the Fourth Amendment, evidence of the citizenship of all "parties of interest" in the case, and a statement of the name, nationality, and citizenship of each member of the grand jury, and (iii) that there were defects in the procedures through which the charges were brought against him. Most or all of these challenges have been previously raised in this case, either by Defendant Denham himself or by Defendant Lawson, and the Court has already addressed (and rejected) them in its prior rulings. In any event, Defendant Denham's arguments are patently without merit and warrant only brief discussion.
First, Defendant Denham's claim of "Moorish" citizenship, even if accepted,  is immaterial to the existence of the Court's jurisdictional authority over Defendant and this case. As to subject matter jurisdiction, the Court has already addressed this point in its ruling on Defendant Lawson's initial motion to dismiss, explaining that "the indictment unquestionably charges Defendant with violations of federal statutes - specifically, 18 U.S.C. §§ 286, 287, and 2 - and the Supreme Court has long since confirmed that the federal district courts are vested with subject matter ...