A Grand Junction man is facing up to 30 years in prison after a federal jury found him guilty of multiple fraud-related charges Thursday evening.
Rocky Hutson was convicted of multiple fraud-related counts after a June 2016 indictment stemming from an FBI-headed investigation, which also resulted in several other arrests.
Hutson, who in 2014 was barred from running for Mesa County sheriff because of a felony theft conviction, filed multiple claims with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2011 and 2012 in an effort to get the department to pay personal debts for himself and several acquaintances, and wrote multiple phony checks for large sums of money, according to evidence presented at trial.
In one scheme, Hutson tried to buy Red Cliff Pointe Shopping Center at 2650 North Ave. by filing a claim with the USDA for $9.5 million.
FBI investigators have described Hutson as a sovereign citizen. Members of the loosely organized movement generally don't recognize federal or state government authority.
Hutson's conviction on all counts followed a midtrial ruling by U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger that he could not use as a shield the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Carbondale-based defense attorney Ashley Petrey said in an interview Friday her client's beliefs are sincere, if "odd and unpopular."
"He truly believes these theories about the United States government, and he does treat it like his religion," Petrey said. "It's very intertwined with God and who created man. … He should be entitled to practice those beliefs."
Krieger ruled that Hutson's beliefs about the corruption of the U.S. government — while sincere — weren't religious.
U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Jeff Dorschner wrote in an email Friday that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is an important tool for protecting religious beliefs.
"Here, having anti-government beliefs, according to the court, is not a protected religious belief," he wrote.
When Hutson took the stand in his own defense Tuesday morning, he said he learned many of his beliefs at local gatherings of the Colorado Free State Republic, which he differentiated from sovereign citizens as a whole by describing it as a non-violent group.
"(The) sovereign citizen movement as a whole wants to get our country back to the way it was before 1933," Hutson told jurors during his hourslong testimony, in an apparent reference to the year when the U.S. abandoned the gold standard.
Hutson said he attended regular meetings for the group at the now-shuttered Miller's Deitch Haus restaurant in Delta before eventually starting his own gathering in Grand Junction.
Hutson said he was eventually even voted a "supreme court judge" for the organization.
Petrey said Hutson plans to appeal both the verdict and Krieger's half-time ruling. A sentencing date has yet to be set.
Three other people who were indicted along with Hutson are in various stages of prosecution.
Gunther Glaub was convicted at trial and sentenced to five years of probation and a $500 fine.
Peter Miller entered a guilty plea last March and is set to be sentenced March 5 in Grand Junction.
Prosecution of Nelson Scott is still pending.