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Judge admonishes jailhouse lawyer

By DAVE KOLPACK Associated Press Writer , The Associated Press – FARGO, N.D.

GUYANA/USA (AP) –A Guyana man charged with investment fraud refused to listen to his court-appointed attorney and instead cited commercial law and religious passages in his federal criminal case. He wound up getting a longer prison sentence as a result.

And so did several other defendants Neville Solomon met in jail and counseled on his unorthodox defense tactics, said a federal judge who sent them all to prison.

“This is hopefully the last in a long line of sad cases,” U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson said while ordering Solomon recently to serve more than seven years in prison for investment fraud.

“A whole bunch of people wound up in prison for a lot longer time than they should have and there’s nothing the court can do about it,” the judge said.

Solomon, 67, was convicted earlier this year on three counts of money laundering and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. Authorities say he bilked investors out of millions of dollars in a pyramid scheme.

Prosecutors asked for a sentence of at least 121 months in prison, based on the amount of money involved and what they perceived as a lack of remorse. Solomon’s court-appointed attorney, Johnathan Judd, asked for 37 months, based on his client’s age, heart condition and no prior criminal history.

Erickson sentenced Solomon to 86 months.

“Mr. Solomon is clinging to a defense that is not a defense,” the judge said.

Solomon and the others filed dozens of handwritten documents in their cases citing provisions from the Uniform Commercial Code, which is meant to help unify state laws regarding sales and commercial transactions. In verbal exchanges in the courtroom and in documents filed in their defense, Solomon and other defendants repeatedly invoked the phrase, “I accept your offer and return it for value.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Shasky called it “commercial paper contract type stuff” that he couldn’t explain. Shasky said he didn’t research the code because it was “gobbledygook that made no sense” to the case.

It soon became clear that Solomon was spreading his legal advice to fellow inmates, Shasky said.

“We never saw these documents until he showed up in our local jails,” Shasky said. “Then all of a sudden they’re coming in left and right.”

Judd had requested a competency hearing for Solomon, writing in court documents that his client did not have a rational understanding of the case and refused to discuss details to help with his defense. Erickson denied the motion.

“Defendant appears to be a person who is voluntarily refusing to participate in the judicial process and attempting to manipulate the system,” Erickson wrote. “It is defendant’s decision to opt-out of our justice system and his decision to refuse to follow the rules.”

During sentencing Erickson called Solomon “bright, charming, capable.”

One of the defendants who used Solomon’s defense strategy, Sean Ogle, was sentenced to 20 years in prison after a jury convicted him in a methamphetamine conspiracy. Defense attorney John Goff said it’s “a fair conclusion” that Ogle received twice as much time for his refusal to drop the Solomon defense.

Goff said he tried to talk Ogle out of it on numerous occasions.

“Sean Ogle was a pleasant guy to represent,” Goff said. “I don’t know that he had a good appreciation about what he was into.”

Goff said when he asked Ogle about filing an appeal to the conviction, his client told him, “I accept your offer and return it for value.”

Solomon and the other defendants also claimed on numerous occasions to be repent of their “sins, debts, obligation and dishonor.” They often quoted from proverbs published by the Institute for Scripture Research in South Africa. Citing one passage, the defendants wrote, “He who is guarantor for a stranger suffers harm. But one who hates shaking hands in a pledge is safe.”

Solomon, who is currently housed in a Crookston, Minn., jail awaiting transfer to a federal prison, did not immediately respond to interview requests.

Shasky said Solomon’s amateur lawyering wasn’t the only bizarre part of his investment fraud case. One of Solomon’s partners, Minot commodities broker Frederick Keiser Jr., once asked to have his case dismissed because his name was spelled in capital letters on the indictment and therefore was not his official name.

Keiser was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

“There are all kinds of crazy defense ideas out there,” Shasky said. “None of them are really recognized by anybody in the criminal sense.”

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