Wesley and Gina Halihan felt the opportunity was too good to pass up when their landlords offered to sell them the home they’d been renting in Santa Rosa.
“I never thought I’d get to buy a home, and all of a sudden the landlord knocks on the door and says, ‘yeah I’ll sell you a house,’ ” Halihan said.
But their dream turned into a nightmare about 10 months later when they discovered their Brown Street home was entangled in hundreds of thousands of dollars in liens for an unpaid mortgage taken out on the property by the Petaluma couple that sold it to them, according to court records.
Now, federal agents are searching for the Halihans’ former landlords, James Christopher Castle, 49, and his wife, Lara Castle, 44, who are at the center of a bitter fight with the Internal Revenue Service. A federal indictment unsealed last month accuses the couple of trying to steal more than $2 million from the U.S. government by claiming tax refunds based on phony documents.
James Castle, who is also known as Chris Castle, said the couple has violated no laws and accused the government of unjustly targeting them.
“It’s not only arbitrary, it’s a ridiculous waste of taxpayer time and money,” he said.
He added that some of his and his wife’s actions, such as not paying taxes, were committed in protest of unjust government laws and banking practices.
“Citizens are required to challenge the government, to call them to the carpet if things aren’t being addressed appropriately,” he said.
Castle would not say in a recent phone interview whether he, his wife and their daughters were still in California or even the United States. The IRS has not been able to contact the couple since the June 24 indictment, said Special Agent Arlette Lee. “If (they) want to contact us, we’d be more than happy to have a conversation with them,” she said.
When asked if he planned to do so, Castle replied, “Why would I reach out? They’re a bunch of liars, cheats and henchmen.”
However, he said, he and his wife are planning to submit a response to the court. Castle said he had a “fundamental problem” with the income tax, which he described as voluntary. He has opted out from paying it as a conscientious objector for 30 years, he added. Castle listed concerns about banks and banks’ relationship with the federal government among his objections.
Being a conscientious objector does not give someone immunity from paying taxes, said Jay Weill, who served as chief of the U.S. Attorney’s tax division for 25 years before becoming a partner at Sideman Bancroft, a law firm in San Francisco. Now he defends people in civil and criminal tax matters.
“Stealing from the government is not a nonviolent form of protest,” he said.
The Castles’ actions and philosophy are typical of a loosely formed group of tax and government protesters often described as “sovereign citizens,” said JJ MacNab, who writes about the movement for Forbes and is planning to publish a book on the subject next year. Such people often use “fake legal research” to avoid paying taxes, she said.
James Castle denied being part of any group or movement.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here