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Third Circuit Upholds Federal False Liens Conviction and 48-Month Sentence

by Mark Wilson

 The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a Pennsylvania man’s federal false liens convictions. The court concluded that 18 USC § 1521 is not unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, and the evidence was sufficient to convict him.

Clarence Hoffert is serving a 15- to 32-year prison term on Pennsylvania child sex crimes. Hoffert asked prison officials to produce a copy of his sentencing order with a “seal stamped upon it.” His request was denied, because the records “do not currently exist.”

Hoffert administratively appealed but the request was again denied, stating “no responsive records exist within the Department’s possession, custody or control.” Hoffert was told he could appeal to a Pennsylvania court if he disagreed.

Hoffert filed a federal civil rights action instead. He sought $3,500 per day in damages for his “initial and continued illegally held confinement” and demanded his “unbiased and immediate release.” The suit was dismissed and a panel of the Third Circuit affirmed. See: Hoffert v. Pennsylvania, USDC No. 13-162, 2014 WL 4262166 (WD Pa 2014), ajf’d_ Fed Appx _ (3rd Cir. 2015).

Hoffert then filed a federal tort claim with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division. He sought $7,396,800,000, or $1.6 million per day, for his allegedly unlawful confinement. His claim was denied because he did not allege wrongdoing of any federal employees.

Hoffert then threatened to add the Torts Branch director and his agency and “file it to the superiors of the United States Inc. at the United Nations.” A legal assistant returned Hoffert’s letter to him.

On August 4, 2017, Hoffert filed a “Claim of Commercial Lien Affidavit and Notice of Non-Judicial Proceeding” in Pennsylvania state court. He named five federal officials as lien debtors, including the magistrate and district judge who dismissed his federal civil rights action, one member of the Third Circuit panel that affirmed the dismissal, the Torts Branch director and the legal assistant who returned his letter. Hoffert claimed these individuals were “now being liened for a minimum amount of $650,000 U.S. Dollars each” due to “treason” and other wrongdoing. The liens sought to seize all real and personal property of the Lien Debtors and their families. Hoffert claimed that each individual was liable for $8,000,000 in damages, for a total of $56 million.

A few months after mailing the liens to the court, Hoffert asked the United States Marshals Service to serve distraint warrants on each lien debtor and “begin collection/liquidation of all their movable assets.” Two marshals interviewed Hoffert on January 30, 2018.

A federal grand jury then charged Hoffert with five counts of filing or attempting to file a false lien against a federal employee, in violation of 18 USC § 1521. The trial court denied Hoffert’s motion to dismiss the indictment, finding that § 1521 was not unconstitutionally vague or overbroad.

“I just wanted the notoriety. I really wasn’t looking to get any type of monetary value out of anything,” Hoffert testified during trial. “I just wanted to show that we’re still being held without the proper paperwork.” Hoffert acknowledged that he understood that 18 USC § 3571 did not authorize his damage claim of $8 million from each individual.

The jury convicted Hoffert on all five counts. The court then imposed a 48-month consecutive prison term, and the Third Circuit affirmed.

The court first rejected Hoffert’s argument that § 1521 is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. It then found that there was sufficient evidence to sustain his convictions.

“As the trial court noted, Hoffert had engaged in an extensive course of conduct to challenge his state convictions, repeatedly ignored advice to file habeas corpus petitions, sought $7.3 billion in damages for his confinement, and even threatened to ‘add’ the director of the Tort Branch to his administrative tort claim after it was denied,” the court noted. See: United States v. Hoffert, _ F3d _ (3rd Cir. 2020).

Related legal case

United States v. Hoffert