On January 18 we broke the story on a local group called Slavery to Sovereignty, who are scamming immigrant and African American communities in the Twin Cities, claiming they can eliminate participants’ mortgages and all tax liabilities in return for $12,500.
The scam itself is based in part on statements similar to those made by an anti-government group called Posse Comitatus, who preach that no citizen is bound to obey any government authority higher than that of the county level. In fact, paying income tax or making social security payments violates their principle.
While not affiliated with Posse Comitatus (as far as we know), Peter “P.J.” Johnson and Abagail Conley, the individuals behind Slavery to Sovereignty, echo much of what the Posse preaches. From the notion that a “U.S. National” has different tax obligations than a “U.S. Citizen” to the statement that through filing a Financing Statement under the Uniform Commercial Code, homeowners would be free to disregard their mortgage and could still keep their home, Johnson and Conley rehash many of the Posse Comitatus anti-government beliefs.
To lend credibility to their “services,” Conley and Johnson ran their “seminars” out of respected community centers – the Sabathani Community Center in Minneapolis, a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and the Oxford Community Center in Saint Paul – a city-owned facility open to public use. If attendees had any lingering doubt, Johnson repeatedly pointed to his former employment with the Minneapolis Parks Police throughout their presentation as proof that his and Conley’s services are legal.
Conley’s role was to provide first-hand testimony that Johnson can deliver on his promises – pointing to herself as a satisfied customer prior to entering into partnership with him. Conley said she was listed in the 2003 edition of “Who’s Who Among Students In American Universities and Colleges,” using that listing to put herself in the same light as other dignitaries listed in the publication, including Rev. Jesse Jackson, Former First Lady Barbara Bush, and President Barack Obama.
Conley also claims to have previously worked for a “very prestigious and reputable financial firm based out of Wall Street in New York,” as one of their top financial professionals, handling over $2 million in assets. While she doesn’t name the firm, the reference was clearly intended to lend credibility to the financial services Conley and Johnson were offering.
Conley told the participants that with Johnson’s help, she was still living in her home despite not paying her mortgage or any property taxes. A check with Hennepin County found that she and her husband were delinquent on their property taxes as of January 1, 2009 and the home itself was sold via a Hennepin County Sheriff’s sale on 4/1/2009.
Johnson and Conley passed out official looking business cards to participants for further inquiries, listing an e-mail address and a website, “www.slaverytosovereignty.com,” along with a P.O. Box in Minneapolis as contact points. When we attempted to reach Johnson and Conley through the e-mail address they provided, we learned it didn’t exist; likewise, while the website name was registered, there was no functioning website to visit.
An investigation into the URL registration led to an second e-mail address for Johnson. When contacted about the website being down and the original e-mail address bouncing back, he claimed they hadn’t intended to pass out the cards and that the site and e-mail were just not set up yet, but would be shortly. Two weeks later, both are still non-working.
Our investigation turned up twelve other website URLs registered to Johnson, all without functioning websites, including “copsnotrobbers.com,” “stoppayingincometax.com,” and “urbanluminaire.com.”
Jeff Long, a postaliInspector with the United States Postal Service, said they were not aware of the group’s use of a post office box in their scheme to defraud the public. However, while there was no current investigation into Johnson, Conley or Slavery to Sovereignty, Long said it’s illegal to use a P.O. Box in the commission of fraud – punishable by up to 20 years in jail and a fine. If members of the public have mailed payment to the group’s P.O. Box, they should get in touch with the Postal Inspector’s office and file a formal complaint.
Benjamin Wogsland, with Attorney General Lori Swanson’s office, said while he could not confirm or deny any investigation into Johnson, Conley, or Slavery to Sovereignty, residents who sent them money for services can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.
Slavery to Sovereignty’s original advertisement listed four seminars. However, despite being listed on the Sabathani Community Center event board for the day, Conley and Johnson did not show up for their January 23rd seminar.
Saint Paul Councilmember Melvin Carter, who represented the area that includes the Oxford Community Center, said that the group would not have been allowed to use the facility if the city had known the details of their seminar. He has since had the reservation for January 30th cancelled and has asked the St. Paul Police Department to investigate the group’s activities.
Carter said that the City of St. Paul’s Foreclosure Prevention team will be at the Oxford Community Center on the 30th to answer any questions from residents who show up for the Slavery to Sovereignty meeting, and to provide legitimate foreclosure information.
Emails to Johnson asking for comment on the original story as well as this follow up article received no response; however, on January 22, 2010, the Twin Cities Daily Planet was “served” with non-legal papers by Johnson and Slavery to Sovereignty. Acting through a “third party,” Charles Davis of Minneapolis, Johnson demanded 47 “proof of claims” made in the original article, and repeatedly stated that his services were not a scam. Additionally, he claimed a copyright on his name “Peter Joseph Johnson” and requested damages in the amount of $500,000 for each instance of it being used. Johnson went on to claim that the original article was in violation of the Bill of Rights, the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the American Convention on Human Rights.
The Twin Cities Daily Planet and David E. Kaplan stand by our original article.