A former minister from Franklin, TN, who was the subject of a Channel 4 I-Team investigation into sovereign citizens has been convicted of mail fraud in a scheme that robbed people of millions.
Mark Manuel, the former minister at the Community Life Fellowship in Franklin, and two others were convicted in federal court in South Carolina for what prosecutors describe as a scheme concocted by Manuel and his fellow sovereign citizens.
"[Manuel] sought out people who were desperate," said South Carolina Assistant District Attorney DeWayne Pearson.
Prosecutors said Manuel helped bilk people across the country, including Tennessee, out of millions of dollars by claiming they could eliminate their debt using a series of secret government accounts.
"He took their money, and a lot of them are simply out on the street for trusting them," Pearson said.
Jerry and Debbie Smith told the Channel 4 I-Team in 2010 that Manuel and his brothers scammed them out of nearly $200,000 as part of a Ponzi scheme.
"What do we think has happened to our money? We think the Manuels stole it," Jerry Smith told us in 2010.
In trying to track down the Manuels for comment, the Channel 4 I-Team went to their homes and found Manuel displaying a sign reading, "The Great Seal of Mark Manuel."
When we went to the back door of the home, a woman stood and held a curtain over the door.
In a deposition in the Smith case, Manuel was asked if he was, in fact, Mark Manuel, and seemed to question the identity in the government records.
"What is your name?" the attorney asked.
"What is not your name?" Manuel responded.
"No, what is your name?" the attorney asked.
"What is not your name?" Manuel repeated.
The Smiths and federal prosecutors believe Manuel tries to use his status as a sovereign citizen to pull off schemes.
In federal court records, the Channel 4 I-Team obtained photographs of IDs that Manuel had on him when he was arrested.
One of the IDs said he was an universal postal union diplomat and another was something called a world ID card.
Manuel said he was not guilty of any scheme and also filed in federal court his last will and testament in Latin.
Manuel's attorney said he had no comment.
In the Smiths' case, a judge ordered Manuel to pay them back what they lost. But Debbie Smith said she's been told that all of the money will likely go to the victims in the other scheme.
Manuel will be sentenced next month.
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