Man who sold fake immunity papers gets 3 ½ years

AP News
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Posted: Nov 21, 2014 3:48 PM

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A man who claimed he was the keeper of the seal of St. Peter was sentenced to 3 ½ years in prison for selling 2,000 fake documents that he said would protect buyers from U.S. law and taxes.

The sentence imposed on James McBride, 60, was even six months longer than the three years sought by prosecutors.

McBride, who had addresses in Hilliard and Dublin, according to court records, led and founded a movement called Divine Province. At hotel seminars and through his website, he sold the fake diplomatic cards and driver's permits, according to court records.

More than 100 people attended one such event in September 2012 at the Washington Dulles Hilton. McBride produced the documents on the spot for five ounces of silver — worth about $168 at the time.

McBride claimed his status as the keeper of St. Peter's seal, bestowed on him by Pope Benedict XVI, authorized him to operate outside U.S. law.

At Friday's hearing, U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga said McBride's strange theology was simply a cover to run a scam that helped him bring in nearly $500,000 from people who joined Divine Province. He said there was no evidence that McBride suffered from any mental health issues, and noted that McBride has spent most of the last 20 years in prison on a variety of offenses, including importing cocaine.

"He may have political views ... but the court has no doubt that the defendant is essentially an accomplished fraudster," Trenga said.

McBride, who represented himself at trial and went on at length at pretrial hearings about his rationale for setting himself up as exempt from U.S. law, declined an opportunity to speak at Friday's hearing. "I'll pass, thank you," McBride said.

His lawyer, Jeffrey Zimmerman, who served as a standby counsel during trial, said McBride will appeal his conviction.

At his trial, McBride defended his philosophy and said that even if he were subject to U.S. law, he should not be convicted because his sincerely held belief demonstrated a lack of intent to break the law.

"I believe that James McBride's beliefs are sincere," Zimmerman said after Friday's hearing.

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.