ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — An Ohio man who says he is the keeper of the seal of St. Peter and immune from U.S. law was ordered held without bond Wednesday on charges that he issued hundreds of fraudulent diplomatic credentials to people who paid to be part of his movement.
James T. McBride, 60, who is listed as a resident of both Hilliard and Dublin, Ohio, in court papers, will be formally arraigned Friday on charges that include causing the impersonation of a diplomat and producing false identifications. Prosecutors say McBride represents himself as the leader of "Divine Province" and promises people they can avoid taxes and debts if they pay to enroll in his society.
According to the indictment, McBride issued nearly 900 fraudulent diplomatic credentials he sold to people at hotel seminars and through his website.
The indictment alleges that in September 2012, between 100 and 150 people attended a seminar organized by McBride at the Washington Dulles Hilton in which he produced on-the-spot diplomatic cards and driver's permits under the auspices of the Divine Province. People were charged five ounces of silver, worth about $168 at the time. Those who couldn't pay in silver were allowed to pay in U.S. currency.
At Wednesday's hearing, McBride said that Pope Benedict XVI personally gave him divine authority that stands above and separate from U.S. law or any debt structure imposed by commercial banks.
"It all turns on whether I am who I say I am," McBride said. "If I am indeed the keeper of the seal of St. Peter, then I absolutely have authority" to reject U.S. law.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Ivan Davis was not moved, telling McBride, "No citizen in the U.S. can operate outside federal and state law." McBride responded by saying that he's not a U.S. citizen, though he did say he was born in Ohio. He referred to the U.S. during the hearing as a "municipal corporation."
McBride opted, against the judge's recommendation, to serve his own attorney. A court-appointed lawyer, Jeffrey Zimmerman, is serving as standby counsel.
The case against McBride bears some similarities to prosecutions of tax protesters who cite various legal theories to justify a refusal to pay taxes. But the charges against McBride make no mention of a failure to pay taxes, and instead focus on the allegation that he issued fraudulent diplomatic credentials and driver's permits.
Court records show that McBride was convicted in a jury trial of similar charges in federal court in Ohio in 2002 and sentenced to more than six years in prison.
Earlier this year, a member of Divine Province, Derek J. Bishop of Shaker Heights, Ohio, was sentenced to six months in prison on charges of impersonating a diplomat.