His attorney says it’s not a crime to be a fool.
But in the case of John Green – the North Idaho attorney, lawmaker, anti-government sheriff’s candidate, anti-tax warrior, former Texas cop and heir to the throne of tax cheat Phil Hart – a Texas jury disagreed.
Jurors did not buy Green as a poor, beleaguered fool, out of his depth.
And neither, astonishingly, did a single one of his fellow members of the Idaho House of Representatives.
Green’s conviction for tax fraud this week in Texas made it clear that he is less of a fool than his lawyer wanted jurors to believe. And the Idaho House has now made it clear that he will be less of a state legislator than he wants to be. Like, not a legislator at all.
A cynic might have expected Green to sail calmly forward on the sea of support for far-right extremists that animates much of the Idaho GOP, but instead, the House followed Idaho’s constitutional prohibition against a felon serving in the Capitol and voted 65-0 to expel him.
It was the first time an Idaho lawmaker has been expelled, and Green earned it.
As prosecutors persuasively outlined, he fits into the tradition of tax protesters – from his railing against the “criminal” IRS to his claims about the illegitimacy of “fiat” money to his various dealings in gold coins – who lie, cheat and steal to avoid paying taxes, while casting themselves as hero in a valiant battle against tyranny.
It’s standard practice in the anti-tax wing of the far-right, anti-government confines of the Inland Northwest. And it’s not remotely done by mistake.
Green was convicted of conspiring to defraud the government by coordinating, hiding and lying about income from two clients and friends in Texas. Prosecutors outlined a scheme that was anything but naive and foolish – it was intentional and mindful, and all carried out, seemingly, with the zealot’s conviction that his tactics are justified because the law is invalid.
“These are smart men,” Justice Department prosecutor Mara Strier told jurors Wednesday, according to the Dallas Morning News. “This is not an honest misunderstanding.”
Shortly thereafter, the jury voted to convict Green and Thomas Selgas. Now Green’s headed back to Boise, where he initially planned to keep serving in the Statehouse.
However smart or dumb Green is, he’s got chutzpah by the barrel. Just like Hart – his mentor and former client. In case you’ve forgotten, Hart was a North Idaho tax protester who fought the government for years over his various attempts to avoid paying taxes, and who once stole more than $20,000 in timber from state land.
He argued that income tax is unconstitutional, among the other extremist, neo-Bircher views he peddled, while serving in the Idaho Legislature. Despite eventually losing his tax case with the state, and despite the obvious chicanery he employed – from creating sham entities to hide assets to claiming “legislative privilege” as a means of dodging his responsibilities – Hart has remained involved in Idaho Republican politics to this day, welcomed in some quarters as a truth-teller rather than a crook.
You can see Green trying to don the same mantle. And his chances for retaining support among at least some in the North Idaho GOP, which has tacked so far to the right that it moves in circles, seems good, even with the expulsion. There’s always a place at that particular table for an anti-tax, alternative-history fool, and Green checks other fringe boxes as well, including the view that county sheriffs are the ultimate authority under the constitution.
Green is a true heir to Hart, who tied up state and federal officials for years with his nonsense arguments and deflections. Green represented Hart as an attorney at the time, and has said he was influenced by Hart’s thinking on the IRS and other theories intended to help people avoid paying taxes. Unlike Hart, there’s a decent chance Green will see the inside of a prison cell; his conviction carries a five-year term.
Green’s scheme in Texas was blatant and obvious, if not easy to untangle for prosecutors. He represented a Texas couple, Thomas and Michelle Selgas, who bought and sold gold, lied to the feds about the value of the gold, and hid money in trust accounts controlled by Green. For a decade, Green paid their bills while the Selgases didn’t pay taxes, to the tune of more than $1.1 million.
His attorney characterized this as “ignorance of the law.” Green has characterized himself as innocent.
You’d have to be a fool to buy it. Luckily, on this occasion, the member of the Idaho House of Representatives were not.