The largest federal false-claims tax-fraud scheme in Missouri history was operated out of a karate studio in a shabby row of businesses in Blue Springs. It was there, say federal prosecutors, that between 2008 and 2011, Gerald Poynter II, also known as "Brother Jerry Love," issued more fraudulent tax forms than black belts.
Poynter and 13 defendants, whom he referred to as "branch managers," are accused of operating a nationwide scheme to defraud the Internal Revenue Service of nearly $100 million.
One of Poynter's branch managers was Shirley Oyer, matriarch of one of Kansas City's most colorful families. Last year, Oyer's son Christopher wrote a book in which he claimed to be the second coming of John the Baptist. Oyer's other son, John Michael, is known for his clashes with Kansas City, Missouri, officials — most recently over custody of his pet chimpanzee, Suco.
A September 2011 indictment alleges that Poynter, 52, and his branch managers would pitch potential clients for his "1099-OID Recoupment Process" at speaking engagements in homes and hotel ballrooms.
"I've made OIDs payable to Spider-Man, Superman," Poynter allegedly bragged in a meeting recorded in Georgia. "You can make it to SpongeBob. You can make it to anybody you want for however much that you want, for $100,000, for example. ... The man's getting paid. They are 24 months behind on processing OIDs. You could make an OID out and slaughter it. Completely fill it out in any way you want to fill it out, booger that thing up bad. No joke."
Of the $96 million in refunds claimed by Poynter's clients, the IRS refunded more than $3.5 million. A notable exception was John Perdido. Court records say the Temecula, California, man received the largest refund of any branch manager: $805,749 in 2009, $118,000 of which, authorities say, he gave to Poynter. He then moved $200,000 to the Philippines, where he bought a home and a car. This past June, Perdido pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy.
Oyer, 71, recruited 12 clients for the scheme and helped file 26 fraudulent tax returns, claiming $12.4 million in refunds. The IRS issued just $92,974 of the requested amount.
Federal prosecutors called the plan "nonsensical" when announcing the charges on September 22, 2011. However, variants of the scheme have been around for decades, and the IRS has devoted a lengthy section of its website to explaining frivolous tax arguments like this one.
Here's how the feds say the conspiracy worked: Poynter's so-called branch managers prepared taxes for at least 145 clients, listing each individual's debts — mortgages, loans, car payments, foreclosure records, bank statements, credit-card statements, etc. — on a Form 1099-OID. This was made to look like as though an authentic 1099 had been issued by the clients' creditors, reporting taxable interest income. The branch managers then filed their clients' 1040 tax returns, "fraudulently reporting over-withholding of tax on purported interest income, making them appear due a tax refund," according to the indictment. Their clients then filed for refunds based on the total amount of their debts.
Poynter and his branch managers allegedly split up to $3,000 in upfront fees from each client and an additional 15 percent of any refund issued to the client. Poynter allegedly tried to shield himself from prosecution by asking his clients to forgo paying him a fee and to make "love donations" instead to "Jerry Love Ministries," a company he set up for that purpose. (He also ran Black Belt Tax, as well as a couple of karate dojos.)
Feds say Oyer received $2,862.20 in fees and deposited the money in the bank account of her family's business, a local ABC Seamless Siding franchise. She is facing one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and five counts of filing false claims for tax refunds.
Oyer declined The Pitch's interview requests. However, she is credited with a chapter in her son Christopher's 2011 book, The Newest Testament: One Nation Under God, in which she explains how she came to believe that her son is the second coming of John the Baptist. She also outlines her views on organized religion.
"[N]one of the various interpretations of the Bible that I had access to made sense," she writes. "To me they seemed illogical and irrational. God seemed very loving, but unfortunately, very confused, too."
In the book, she writes of visions and dreams that answered her questions about the Bible. She also writes of witnessing and hearing things no one else could. Through these apparitions, she pieced together her view of Christianity.
Shirley's chapter says, "My doctors told me that I could not have any more children. My dreams and visions led me to believe otherwise, but my doctors kept insisting I was unable to have any more children. Then I had a vision from John the Baptist informing me of his return through me."
In 1976, she and her husband — the couple had three children aged 10, 12 and 14 — went on a trip to Italy. She returned feeling ill and took antibiotics. Her doctor wanted to perform a cancer screening. Oyer insisted on taking a pregnancy test first, which came back positive.
She recalls in the book that before a trip that summer to Las Vegas, she was exposed "to some bad fumes that might affect a pregnancy," and her body attempted "to abort the fetus."
"Thank goodness I was in Las Vegas, as the doctors in Kansas City would not have saved this baby," she writes.
Christopher Oyer was born August 12, 1976. He weighed, the book says, 3 pounds, 2 ounces.
"My opinion in Las Vegas was that everything was in divine order," Oyer concludes. And the world had a new John the Baptist.
Christopher, whose calm, thoughtful demeanor is the antithesis of a fire-and-brimstone preacher, would answer The Pitch's questions only through e-mail. He says his life's mission is to bring people together, which he's doing through his United World Church.
"I have returned to make things right and to help humanity cut its ties from primitive thinking," he writes to The Pitch. "My goal is to unite. We are all one people that have become separated by oppressive and confused governments and religions."
United World Church began as a movement without a brick-and-mortar headquarters. That is soon to change. Oyer tells The Pitch that his church is ready for a physical space.
"I am happy to announce that the United World Church is opening an AWAKEN: Higher Brain Living Center located in Overland Park," he writes. "We are going to rock the metro! There will be things going on in our building that you won't believe even when you first see it."
Oyer says his mother didn't indoctrinate him with political or religious teachings when he was a child. She raised him "with unconditional love to be a free thinker," he says.
"She already knew who I was, so she let me be me," he says. "I chose the best parents for myself in this life. I have been preprogrammed before I was born. Sharing my inner knowledge with my mom and family has been a very rewarding experience."
Unsurprisingly, Christopher Oyer says his mother is not guilty of tax fraud.
"God knows she is innocent and that's all that matters," he says. "Governments have a long history of charging and convicting innocent people. Don't forget that both Jesus and John the Baptist were killed by the government. I was killed because the government feared I would cause an up rise [sic] amongst the people."
In The Newest Testament, Oyer also devotes a chapter to his beliefs on taxes.
"The Constitution is a set of rules for the government, not the people," he explains in an e-mail. "There is no authority to tax the people directly.
"The federal government was never given jurisdiction over the people," he adds. "The things you create do not have jurisdiction or authority over God who created you."
Furthermore, Oyer says Christians have a role model for taxes in their savior.
"The Bible states that Jesus was accused of tax protesting," Oyer writes.
He quotes Luke 23:2: "And they began to accuse him, saying, 'We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.' "
Despite tax-fraud allegations and a divine reincarnation, Shirley Oyer's other son, John Michael Oyer, describes his family as normal. A talkative man who relishes an opportunity to explain his sovereign-citizen theories, Oyer stresses that he doesn't want his family to be "looked at like a DNA pool of freaks."
"You're looking at a good, productive family that gets well with everybody that they come in contact with," he says.
John Michael Oyer says his family has lived in Kansas City for five generations, and he doesn't recall growing up with his mother telling him that his little brother was a notable religious figure. And he's not quite sure why she named him "John" despite his brother being the second coming of the prophet.
"Maybe she [Shirley] just screwed up one name," he says, laughing. "To err is human, right?"
Christopher has a different explanation. "My name was given in a vision right before my birth," he says. "Christopher shall be my name this time."
John Michael Oyer remembers his mother teaching him to always question authority. And he's had no problem following that lesson.
Oyer is well-known in the halls of Kansas City, Missouri's Municipal Courthouse for his custody battle with the city for his pet chimpanzee, Suco.
In October 2010, the chimp escaped and was seen wandering around land owned by Oyer on Indiana Avenue. Kansas City police and animal-control officers responded to the scene, and the dashboard-camera video of the incident's climax appeared on every local news broadcast: Suco leaps onto the hood of a police cruiser and smashes the car's windshield.
Suco was taken from Oyer and sent to live at the Kansas City Zoo. Oyer is still fighting to get her back, but he has a host of other legal issues to deal with first. City inspectors have cited him numerous times in the last year for property code violations. In April, he was cited for having limbs and brush on his property, keeping an unlicensed vehicle, using RVs for unapproved storage, rank weeds, broken or missing panes of glass, and unapproved parking. Oyer calls these citations the city's attempt to keep him busy so he won't sue for custody of Suco.
Meanwhile, he also defends his mother. He says if people asked his mother about filing 1099-OID forms and she gave them her opinion, that doesn't make her an accomplice to a crime. He offers this analogy: If he was asked about putting on a homemade fireworks display, he would tell someone what he knows. However, if there's an accident, he couldn't be held responsible, he says.
"Now you go out and do something wrong with it — somebody gets hurt, what have you, and they say, 'What would ever make you do something that ridiculous?' " he explains. " 'Well, John Michael told me about it.' Then they come after me? Well, I didn't do it. That's exactly what they're doin her [Shirley]."
Poynter's indictment says he made similar claims to his branch managers: "We are not soliciting an OID process or a recoupment process. Don't solicit."
During a 2008 training session in Atlanta, Poynter allegedly told his partners: "Don't put a billboard out telling anybody that this is what we're doing. What I want you to put on the billboard is that we are a professional tax-services company."
The indictment against Shirley Oyer says she was actively recruiting tax clients to file 1099-OID forms, which she benefited from financially.
This week, two defendants pleaded guilty to their roles in the plot. Two others previously pleaded guilty.
The trials of Poynter, Shirley Oyer and six other defendants are scheduled for January 7, 2013. If Oyer is convicted on all counts, she could face up to 35 years in prison, plus fines and restitution.