A man and woman from Allegany County who claim it is their legal right to refuse paying income taxes were convicted of felony charges Monday afternoon in federal court.
Patricia O'Connor and her husband, Richard Ray Drachenberg, claimed they renounced their United States citizenship in 2001 by sending letters to President George W. Bush and other officials.
They also claimed they are "New York nationals" and are not residents of the United States, even though their home is in the rural village of Angelica.
A jury refused to buy that argument, convicting O'Connor of six felony counts and Drachenberg of one.
"We believe this verdict is just and supported by the evidence," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango, who prosecuted the case with John E. Rogowski. "There are legal procedures a person can follow to renounce his or her citizenship, but those procedures were not followed by these defendants."
The jury spent less than 90 minutes in deliberations after a trial that lasted more than a week.
O'Connor and Drachenberg, who are in their late 50s, face a May 21 sentencing date before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara.
O'Connor was convicted of five felony counts of tax evasion and one felony count of conspiring to defraud the government. Drachenberg was convicted of the same conspiracy count, the only charge filed against him.
Criminal investigators from the Internal Revenue Service said the couple avoided paying more than $217,000 in income taxes over a 12-year period by failing to file tax returns.
Jurors rejected the couple's claim that their income is tax-free because they are "New York nationals" and not American citizens. In court papers filed before the trial, the couple claimed they renounced their citizenship, and they denied that their residence is in the U.S.
"I have never made a bona fide contract that states I am a citizen and/or national of the United States," Drachenberg said in court papers. "My allegiance is to the country of New York and its people (nationals)."
But the couple, who acted as their own attorneys, said little during the trial and did not take the witness stand. Drachenberg gave a brief closing argument Monday, saying that, in his view, government prosecutors had failed to prove their case.
Drachenberg and O'Connor showed little reaction as the verdict was read, staring straight ahead. They both declined to comment as they left the courtroom.
The Angelica couple face a strong possibility of jail time for their actions.
Under advisory sentencing guidelines, each faces a likely prison term of two years or more, court officials said.
The crimes charged against Drachenberg and O'Connor are different from those of Tom Daschle, who withdrew from consideration for the position of health and human services secretary, and Timothy F. Geithner, who was confirmed as Treasury secretary last month.
Daschle and Geithner both admitted to past failures to pay some of the taxes they owed, and both paid back taxes.
But Daschle and Geithner did file tax returns and did pay taxes. O'Connor and Drachenberg filed no personal income tax returns for the years 1996-2007, claiming they were immune from income taxation.
IRS agents said the couple made more than $714,000 in income in a 12-year period without paying any income tax.
The couple's legal argument is a "frivolous argument" that has been repeatedly rejected by courts when people attempted to use it to avoid paying taxes, Rogowski said.
The government prosecutes only a small percentage of the people throughout the nation who refuse to pay taxes, according to David Cay Johnston of Rochester, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of books critical of the federal tax system.
The government does not have enough agents to go after all tax protesters, and prosecutes only a few cases "for deterrent value," Johnston said.
The IRS says 734 people were sentenced for federal tax crimes in the agency's 2008 fiscal year.
"We do hope prosecutions like this have a deterrent value," Rogowski said. "[Drachenberg and O'Connor] had plenty of opportunities to resolve this situation before it went to the point of a criminal trial."
O'Connor -- a computer consultant -- made almost all the couple's income, prosecutors said. And while the two claim to be "New York nationals," they do not pay state income taxes either, prosecutors said in court documents.