A Florida father and daughter claimed the government owed them $175 million in tax refunds on their lottery winnings. The IRS paid them $3.4 million before the agency realized the pair had never purchased a winning ticket, prosecutors say.
Now, the Broward County pair, who say they're "aboriginal indigenous Moorish Americans" immune to government authority, are on trial in a Palm Beach federal courtroom accused of tax fraud.
Court documents allege that Danielle Takeila Edmonson, 35, of Boynton, and Kenneth Roger Edmonson, 51, of Oakland Park, began filing a series of bogus tax returns in 2015.
That year, prosecutors allege, Danielle Edmonson claimed an unspecified amount of lottery winnings, and managed to get the IRS to pay her $239,700. With her allegedly ill-gotten refunds, Danielle Edmonson bought a BMW and took out $60,000 from the bank in cash.
The following year, the woman — who court filings describe as a master's in business graduate — decided to ask the IRS to pay her over $80 million in returns on over $141 million of supposed income.
"Your demand has no legal validity and is not payable through any federal agency," the IRS replied in a letter quoted in court documents. "Your scheme appears to be akin to a fraud."
But the revenue service's remonstrance didn't slow Dainelle Edmonson. The following year, 2016, she got almost $2.5 million out of the agency in what prosecutors allege are fraudulent filings. And the following year, 2017, she asked for $9 million.
Court documents explain that the IRS paid her father three quarters of a million dollars in 2018 in what prosecutors allege was a similar scheme.
Agents for the IRS raided Kenneth Edmonson's home in March 2018, but the raid did not apparently keep him from filing a second fraudulent amended return soon after, according to the allegations in court documents.
Court filings made by Danielle Edmonson after her March 2019 arrest give a hint as to the duo's possible motivations.
"I am an aboriginal indigenous Moorish American national," she wrote in a handwritten motion from jail demanding hundreds of millions of dollars from the government as restitution for her allegedly unjust imprisonment.
Identifying herself as Moorish Sovereign Citizen in the filings, Danielle Edmonson demanded her immediate release and claimed "nothing stands between myself and the creator."
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal nonprofit that tracks American extremist groups, describes Moorish Sovereign Citizens as a small sect that believes "African Americans constitute an elite class within American society with special rights and privileges that convey on them a sovereign immunity placing them beyond federal and state authority."
A website for a New York group apparently affiliated with the movement lays out the group's beliefs: "Governments are corporations / companies that have no 'authority' over natural flesh and blood beings," the website claims.
Federal courts have repeatedly rejected claims of immunity made by sovereign citizens.
Kenneth Edmonson's belief in his own "sovereign immunity" has already brought him into conflict with U.S. District Judge Robin L. Rosenberg.
The fez-wearing man was held in contempt of court on Monday morning, and he and his daughter listened in to jury selection by video conference after being removed from the courtroom by U.S. Marshals.
If convicted, the father-daughter pair face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison each for mail fraud, and five years in prison for lying on government filings.
Opening arguments in the jury trial are scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, and the trial is expected to last three days.