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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Court to hear sovereignty defense in tax evasion case

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

A Kane'ohe man who says he is a citizen of the Hawaiian kingdom is in jail awaiting trial this week in a legal battle over whether he owes the state $6,170 in income tax.

John P. Souza, charged with tax evasion, says U.S. and state laws don't apply to him.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

The case of John P. "Pilipo" Souza, a retired Honolulu fire captain and private insurance investigator, is the latest action by sovereigntists who assert their Hawaiian citizenship by disregarding certain U.S. and state laws they say don't apply to them.

A trial before state Circuit Court Judge Michael Wilson is set for tomorrow, when Souza, 66, will face second-degree theft and fraud charges.

He has spent more than a month in the O'ahu Community Correctional Center, because he refused on June 28 to participate in the trial proceedings, and his bail was revoked.

The strain on his family was starting to show last week, when he sought unsuccessfully to get bail restored. As the sheriff led Souza away, he blew a kiss to his tearful wife, Leota, and waved to friends in the gallery.

Souza was indicted in September on two counts of making "false and fraudulent statements," said deputy attorney general Joan Ha'o, when he claimed in two amended state tax returns that his "adjusted income" for 1999 and 2000 was zero.

The two counts of theft stem from income tax refunds — $2,962 for 1999 and $3,208 for 2000 — that he received based on those returns, Ha'o said.

Like many sovereignty activists, Souza maintains the kingdom was never legally terminated and that its laws still apply — including laws that make anyone born in Hawai'i eligible for citizenship at birth.

Among the activists are Nathan Brown, a protester convicted of tax fraud in 1993 and a fugitive until his arrest last year.

Unlike most sovereigntists, however, Souza is of Portuguese, not Hawaiian, ancestry. But he and supporters such as sovereignty activist Leon Siu say Souza may claim Hawaiian citizenship, pointing to the multi-ethnic makeup of the Hawaiian nation before the monarchy was overthrown in 1893.

Central to Souza's case is his contention that he renounced his U.S. citizenship in 1996, giving written instruction to his private employer not to withhold taxes, Siu said. The taxes continued to be withheld until he retired last year, when he filed for the refund.

He also maintains that state courts have no jurisdiction to try him, Siu said, so Souza has insisted on representing himself. "Once you have an attorney appointed by the court, you waive your objections to the jurisdiction," added William Amona, another supporter and longtime Hawaiian activist.

At two court dates — April 14 and June 28 — Souza refused to leave the gallery to let the trial begin. He was taken into custody at the April hearing but released after stating that he would come to trial in June.

However, when in June he declined again to "enter the bar" to enable jury selection to begin, his bail was revoked and he was sent to OCCC.

He remained there until Friday, when he appeared at a hearing on a motion to restore bail so he could leave OCCC, meet with witnesses and prepare for his trial. "I have not been able to go to the library," Souza told Wilson. "I have not been able to do any research to further my case. I have been academically disconnected."

He promised Wilson that, because he does not want to serve more jail time, he would not delay trial procedures further. Wilson did not accept that promise, and would not allow Souza to bail himself out.

"I don't question that at this time you might be sincere," Wilson said. "But you were sincere in April, and after that you didn't keep your word. ... I cannot contribute to a disrespect of the jury system."

Amona, who also considers himself a Hawaiian citizen and views the U.S. control of Hawai'i as fraudulent, said Souza's sincerity lies in the course he's following while others try to avoid making such a difficult choice. Sovereigntists can't justify making their case while remaining U.S. citizens, he said.

"If they're sincere and want to restore the Hawaiian kingdom, they have to understand who they are," Amona said.

State attorney Ha'o, however, applauded arguments Wilson made in earlier proceedings, when the judge advised Amona to pursue change through legislative means rather than risking a criminal record. She also said tax cases such as this one seem motivated by "self-interest."

Reach Vicki Viotti at vviotti@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8053.