Presumed Guilty: Caught in the American Gulag

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As
Americans joyously celebrate the holiday season, a man sits alone
in a cold cell in the Washington, DC jail. The room is filthy, with
a plain cot, a thin blanket, and no pillow. Upon arrival, he was
denied toiletries, linens, or even toilet paper itself. The guards
sneeringly suggested he “make a shopping list."

With
winter here, there is no heat, and temperatures drop to near freezing
at night. The guards dress warmly, yet the prisoner is not allowed
heavier garments, or an extra blanket. His jail-issue clothes provide
little protection from the cold. He keeps warm as best he can by
stuffing newspapers underneath them. He is continually shivering.

His
health has suffered. His dietary needs, prescribed for a heart ailment,
are not being met. A handwritten sheet detailing his requirements
was returned to him because there were numbers on it, and therefore,
his keepers claimed, he was writing in code. The previous summer
he contracted a severe respiratory infection that went untreated
for weeks. He has lost significant weight.

His
only writing paper is the back pages of old legal documents. He’s
not allowed any personal items on the walls. Incoming mail is often
lost or delayed. Outgoing mail often disappears or is very late
in arriving. It is difficult to obtain stamps. When a friend tried
to send some in a personal letter, they were confiscated, and he
was warned that this action could be logged as an “escape attempt."

Documents
pertaining to his case were taken away and stored, for “safe keeping."
Books that friends attempted to send him were often returned, unopened.
There are frequent random searches of his room, and letters or articles
he had been in the process of writing are confiscated.

He
cannot use the telephone on any regular schedule, and the rare call
he can make is limited to ten minutes duration, and is monitored.

Visitations
are difficult. Though he is accused of a “white collar” offense,
he is nonetheless treated like a dangerous violent criminal, led
to and from the visitation room in shackles and leg irons. Conversations
consist of yelling back and forth through inch-thick glass, as the
speakerphone rarely works, making it difficult to communicate with
attorneys or family. There is no privacy. Visitors themselves are
often subject to humiliating harassment by guards before being allowed
entry – if they are.

This
almost seems like “One
day in the life of Ivan Denisovich,"
but this is America
– this is the daily existence of former telecom executive and venture
investor Walter Anderson, 52, awaiting
trial on twelve counts of federal and district tax evasion, for
which he was arrested February 28th.

It
would be only natural for Walt to take this treatment personally.
But, according to a prominent Denver-area defense attorney I spoke
with about his case, Anderson’s plight is actually not “personal”
at all. It’s the situation that every person accused of a crime,
and cannot make bail, endures while awaiting trial in the United
States today.

Anderson
has been in the Segregation unit since he was discovered with a
contraband cell phone on October 20th. Prosecutors convinced the
warden that he now, by virtue of this new offense, has become an
“escape risk," and should be kept isolated indefinitely “for his
own protection."

Anderson
is in his 10th month of captivity, as the judge in the case declared
him a flight risk. His case has been described as the “largest tax
evasion case in history," but the “flight risk” argument was not
about the tax case, but rather about the books he reads
– some of which you may own. It’s about maps of foreign
countries he’s visited being found in his condo – you may have similar
maps in your study, if you’ve ever travelled outside the
US in your life.

The
entire Walt Anderson case has become this bizarre, Kafka-esque nightmare,
and, when reading transcripts of the hearings,
one questions if we’re even in the same country anymore.

Walt
Anderson has never engaged in fraud, or physically harmed another
human being; nor has he ever threatened to do so. While prosecutors
claim he made lots of money, stashed it offshore in a web of holding
companies, and never paid taxes, he should not be considered a “threat”
to the safety and security of Americans.

Prosecutors
claimed that if Anderson was allowed to go free on bond, he’ll immediately
bolt to a lush offshore exile, where all his ill-gotten gains are
stashed, and live out his life free from American Justice. Except,
the only evidence they have for this assertion is that they
found books in his condo on creating new identities and living underground
lifestyles. No actual hard evidence of hidden cash, or assets
that he could liquidate, has been found. Anderson’s lawyers tried
to explain how he technically lost most of the money earned
in the telecoms back in the 90’s as soon as he made it. Through
his offshore holding companies and investment firms he put tens
of millions into other telecoms, and space companies that were his
personal passions. All this money was lost via business failures
and the general collapse of the telecom market. But the Feds wouldn’t
listen, and after nearly six years of “investigation," coming up
empty, they can’t afford to back down now.

Walt
is not a “tax protester."
While he is openly no friend to Leviathan, Anderson remains adamant
in his assertion that everything he did to avoid US and District
taxes was absolutely legal and fully transparent – all he wants
is a fair chance to prove his case in court. But to achieve that,
Anderson faces an uphill battle reminiscent of the Myth of Sisyphus.

To
even hope to compete with prosecutors on a level field, Anderson
will need a host of Expert Witnesses and Forensic Accountants. The
pre-trial “discovery” process will involve sending investigators
overseas, to take depositions from business associates and bankers.
Walt also needs the freedom to hire the best legal help he can find,
and be able to work with them in sorting through the 100,000+ pages
of documents needed to craft his defense.

But
all this costs lots of money – and therein lies the rub, and a crowning
example of what the Feds will do to get a conviction, particularly
if their case may not be airtight:

(1)
To start, Justice and the IRS lied through their teeth concerning
their intentions. Anderson had known he was under investigation
more than two years before his arrest. His understanding, as conveyed
by his attorneys, was that he would turn himself in at Pre-Trial
Services and immediately be released, on recognizance or bond, as
is the norm in tax cases. He would surrender his passport and go
about his business of preparing his case. Instead, prosecutors arranged
a media circus at the airport, and hauled Walt off in chains as
he disembarked a flight from London (coming into the US,
not attempting to leave it, by the way – something
he had done 40 times during that two-year period).

(2)
Next, prosecutors spun a web of circumstantial evidence convincing
the judge that he was a flight risk, including dramatic (but later
proved unsubstantiated) tales of safe deposit boxes stuffed with
cash in London and Switzerland, a home in Spain, and especially
those pesky, suspicious books about forging new identities, along
with maps of foreign countries. They even tried to claim he had
a false passport, but that was also later proven to be nonsense.

(3)
Negotiations on “conditions for release” fell apart. In considering
house arrest, prosecutors asked that one of the most high-priced
security agencies available be engaged. Anderson was expected to
bear the costs personally, at $180,000 per month. Even
if he was able to pay, prosecutors then reversed themselves, insisting
it still wasn’t enough, as though Anderson was some sort
of super-James-Bond character, who could jimmy the electronic bracelet
with a paper clip, leap out a third-story window, land on his feet,
and jump into a waiting Aston-Martin and speed off to safety – all
in thirty seconds or less, when the guards weren’t looking.

(4)
But Walt couldn’t make that deal, because at the same time, the
Feds were already sticking their fingers in his business. The IRS
has allegedly worked with creditors to block a bankruptcy sale of
assets for a firm in which Anderson had a stake – his share of the
proceeds, Anderson claims, would have paid for both the “security”
services and his legal defense. But when the sale was blocked, he
could no longer pay his attorneys, who asked to be removed from
the case. Walt was then forced to claim indigence, and request a
Public Defender.

It has also been reported that personal assets have been seized
by the IRS, and are being liquidated for pennies on the dollar.
The purpose of this, it has been argued, is to render Anderson penniless
and ruined. If this bears out, the picture becomes clear – collecting
taxes is not the goal in the Anderson case. It is simply to nail
Anderson by any way possible, and thus set an extreme example for
others. Anderson is far more valuable to the IRS as the poster boy
for bad behavior, that they can trot out every tax season for the
next 20 years.

(5)
Finally, of course, is Anderson’s physical and psychological “torture”
in the detention facility itself. When he finally goes to trial,
he will physically “look guilty” to a jury totally ignorant of what
actually goes on in those facilities. His battle will only get worse.

If
the Feds can prevent Anderson from adequately defending himself,
the better chance they have of overwhelming a jury into convicting
him.

The
outrageousness of all this is exceeded only by its hypocrisy. O.J.
Simpson
and Robert Blake were
allowed to pay their lawyers from personal assets. Those
involved in the Enron,
WorldCom
and Tyco scandals
all ran around free – for three years, in some cases –
before even being indicted.

Although
a lifelong resident of the DC area, Anderson never sought to “buy
influence” on Capitol Hill. Because of that, he may be considered
an easy target, as opposed to a Ken Lay,
Richard
Scrushy
, or Bernard
Ebbers
.

The
Anderson case has chilling portents for liberty in two distinct
areas:


The fact that someone merely accused of a white-collar
offense, with no prior criminal background, can be held indefinitely
solely on the basis of the books they read. If allowed
to stand, it isn’t a big stretch to assume that next they’ll begin
to scrutinize all people who own certain books, whether
suspected of a crime or not, like in the film Minority
Report
. (“Mr. Olson, you bought books two years ago
entitled ‘How
to Be Invisible
‘ and ‘Where
to Stash Your Cash – Legally
‘, ergo you must be planning
some sort of high crime and intend to flee the country. We have
to arrest you on suspicion, and investigate further.”)


The other main goal of this case is to intimidate high-net-worth
individuals and corporations from operating offshore, even in completely
legal ways – stay home and pay up. And if you’re already offshore
– “we’re coming for you."

The
ACLU has been completely MIA on this. At least
five different ACLU offices have been contacted by an associate,
concerning the Anderson case. In each attempt, staffers either “blew
off” the caller, or simply failed to return recorded calls.

In
contrast to the official propaganda, Walter Anderson should be held
up by all freedom-loving Americans as the highest example for prosecutorial
abuse – slammed by corrupt officials for the sole
purpose of career advancement
, as happens every day in thousands
of other cases, involving citizens of more modest means whose names
we’ll never know.

The
abusive conditions in the jail system – again, where people are
held who are merely accused, not convicted of
any crimes – needs to be exposed and reformed. Officials in those
institutions, who care so little for proper maintenance of infrastructure
or the health of the inmates, should be removed from their posts
and charged with human rights abuses under
both the US Constitution and all international agreements and treaties
to which the US is a signatory.

Dr.
Walter Block, in his landmark book Defending
the Undefendable
makes the case for many human activities
our culture deems sordid or unacceptable. However he fails to mention
one other “undefendable” person in his book – the tax evader,
for such a person serves a valued function as a lightning rod for
egregious behavior by government officials, allowing them to show
their true colors as violators of human rights, human dignity, and
civil liberties. Perhaps an updated version will one day include
this.

Trial
for Walt Anderson has been set for early May, 2006. You may send
him a holiday greeting here.

December
24, 2005

Thomas
Andrew Olson [send him
mail]
is a New York-based systems engineer, writer and
speaker, whose topics range from technology and the future to politics
and policy.

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