Even while sitting in jail, Charles Bailey fancied himself stronger and smarter than just about everyone else.
"I could have avoided all of this bullshit if I had just waivered [sic]," he wrote to his wife, Dionne, in January 2002. "I am showing you what I am made of, I am still here, if it had been anyone else they would have waivered [sic] and bitched out a long time ago."
See, Bailey was no common criminal. He was practically royalty. Those who put him behind bars -- "the bastards," as Bailey invariably called them -- knew this, but pretended not to care, pretended not to be afraid of him. Yet Bailey saw the truth. He was a Moor, after all, a descendant of the original dark-skinned inhabitants of North America, and beyond the reach of white bastards like cops and prosecutors.
"Don't you be worrying about these Europeans and there [sic] threats," he wrote, "because when I get out of here I will deal with them accordingly, that is why they don't want me out because they fear me and the things that I know."
And he was right, in a manner of speaking. Police knew that Bailey, of Canton, was running a scam under the cover of two distinct but strangely compatible anti-government ideologies: redemption, an elaborate conspiracy-theory-cum-get-rich-quick scheme with roots in white supremacy, and Moorish nationalism, an equally complex black-separatist movement. He appears to have been the first in Ohio to meld the two.
Bailey was also the first to learn the hard way that his beliefs couldn't shield him from prosecution. Of the 17 loosely affiliated redemptionists indicted by Cuyahoga County in August 2002, Bailey earned the longest sentence -- 10 years -- due in large measure to his stubborn refusal to admit defeat. In fact, a co-defendant says, the former pizza salesman, though quite sane, still believes that he is Lord Noble, Shareef Malik El, Bey, prime minister of the Al Moroccan Empire.
When he was arrested for the last time, in Georgia in 2002, Bailey was carrying several bogus ID cards bearing his Moorish name. Some included a head shot in which Bailey sported a black fez and a bright red tunic.
But nothing in Bailey's background seems to suggest a future on the cutting edge of anti-government financial fraud. He was born in Colorado in 1964 and enjoyed a "positive" childhood, according to a psychiatrist appointed to determine his ability to stand trial. He later joined the Army and got married. The first of his four kids was born around 1987.
Somehow he landed in the pizza business, managing a Domino's, then opening his own shops on the East Side. And somehow he lost that business. The details are sketchy, but Sheriff's Detective Don Cleland says Bailey told him that an associate drew him into a redemption scheme that ultimately cost Bailey his livelihood. (Bailey declined Scene's interview requests.)
But those seduced by redemption don't turn their backs on it easily. The faithful believe that followers charged with crimes don't prove the theory wrong; they just weren't schooled enough to execute it properly. So after losing his business, Bailey seemed to embrace it with a convert's zeal.
Redemption grew out of the "sovereign citizen" and white-supremacist movements of the 1980s. Mark Pitcavage, an Ohio historian with the Anti-Defamation League, traces it to Roger Elvick, who was associated in the 1970s and '80s with the anti-government Committee of the States as well as the Aryan Nation. The Committee of the States was an offshoot of Posse Comitatus, the first to put forth the notion that the federal government is illegitimate and that Americans could declare themselves sovereign, or outside government's reach.
Redemption is as complicated as The Matrix trilogy, but like all good conspiracy theories, it mixes in just enough real history to sound plausible. Adherents believe that the U.S. is not a nation, but a corporation -- and a bankrupt one at that. Part of the supposed proof is a real 1933 congressional act that ended the practice of backing U.S. currency with gold.
This relates to a concept at the heart of redemption: the "straw man." Redemptionists claim that since the abandonment of the gold standard, American wealth has been based on the productivity of American workers, and that a secret account -- representing about $1 million -- exists for every person. Redemptionists call this account the straw man -- a legal entity existing only on paper. The name redemption comes from Elvick's belief that you can "redeem" your straw man -- in other words, tap that secret account. The most common method is by writing check-like documents called sight drafts.
Redemption experts run seminars and hawk instructional books and tapes online. Some have pipelines to Elvick and sell transcripts of long, rambling phone conversations they had with him. But, oddly enough, they don't accept sight drafts. Payment in U.S. currency only, please.
You'd think that this would be enough to arouse suspicion in prospective clients, but redemption flourishes among the desperate and greedy.
Bailey was probably a little of both when he turned to Right Way L.A.W. ("learn and win") in 2000. The Akron-based, self-styled legal-resource center taught redemption, according to assistant prosecutor Dan Kasaris, who's handled all but one of Cuyahoga County's 30-odd redemption cases. Bailey seems to have been an eager student. Among the hundreds of documents stored on his computer were letters to credit agencies. The message -- conveyed in dense pseudo-legalese peppered with Latin -- was that the "entity" Charles K. Bailey was now the "secured private property of Charles-Kenneth: Bailey." He'd redeemed his straw man.
Redemption has some elements of a pyramid scheme. After learning the theory himself, Bailey sold his services as a financial advisor of sorts, teaching others how to rid themselves of debt without paying a dime and how to fend off complaints with blizzards of largely indecipherable but threatening missives.
It was through this bizarre paperwork that Bailey first drew police attention.
In October 2000, a client of Bailey's lost her house after following his advice to pay her mortgage with sight drafts. As deputies carried out the eviction order, Bailey took pictures from a parked car. Deputies noticed him, but as they approached the car, he peeled out, so they pulled the car over. Bailey showed the officer an international driving permit in the name of Prince Charles of the Bahamas. Later, after the Bahamian embassy said there was no such person, Bailey was indicted on falsification charges. That day, however, he merely ended up with a ticket for a broken taillight.
But soon the officer who wrote the ticket received a photocopy of it in the mail. Words had been printed over the copy in thick, black type: "Accepted for Value." On a line labeled "Value," Bailey wrote $15,000.
"Accept for value" is a common redemptionist ploy. In this case, Bailey was pretending to pay the officer $15,000, with the intention of then reporting this "gift" to the IRS, in order to prompt an audit of the officer. Authorities call such tactics "paper terrorism."
Through Right Way L.A.W., Bailey met Leonard Williams of Olmsted Township. Like Bailey, Williams had found Right Way while struggling with financial problems, which he blamed, in a letter to Scene, on a $600-per-month mortgage increase and "the tricks of predatory lending."
Williams quickly became a redemption zealot. He co-founded a group called the Untaxers, which taught redemption in seminars. In early 2001, he convinced Ron Lutz, a redemption expert from California, to visit Northeast Ohio and pass along his wisdom.
Anyone researching redemption online at the time would have found Lutz's Diogenes Historical Society, apparently named for the ancient Greek who is said to have searched in vain for an honest man. It's not clear whether Williams knew that Bailey also was in touch with Lutz, or vice versa, but Bailey learned of Lutz's visit by accident, after calling Lutz's home and hearing that he'd already left. According to Kasaris, Bailey was angry. At Lutz's seminar, held in North Olmsted, Bailey demanded to know whether the others were cutting him out. Apparently the matter was smoothed over -- Bailey remained in touch with Williams and Lutz -- but Kasaris says the perceived slight may have been what prompted Bailey to focus on striking out on his own. He'd already begun to diversify, and his business plan did not include white dudes like Lutz.
We are the survivors of an unsung holocaust. We've been removed from the rights to our land and reclassified as Negroes, Coloreds, Africans, Afro-Americans, West Indians, Blacks and most recently, African Americans, against our own free will. Our proper designation is Free, Sovereign Moorish Nationals, of the Azizan Moorish Nation . . . We will answer to nothing else. We are governed only by Natural Law. We are non-corporate entities and only pledge allegiance to the Creator of all things and the Azizan Moorish flag. -- from the website of the Azizan Moorish Nation of North Amexem (no longer online).
The Moorish movement has roots in the Moorish Science Temple, an Islam-influenced, African-American sect founded in 1913. Moorish Science is sometimes cited as a forerunner of the Nation of Islam; Elijah Muhammad is said to have been an early follower.
Moorish Science still exists -- there's at least one temple in Cleveland -- but according to the ADL's Pitcavage, the mid-to-late '90s saw the rise of Moorish nationalism, an offshoot that's more interested in politics than theology. Moorish nationals say that they are descendants of an empire that once covered much of the world, from Africa to North America, and that their history has been covered up by Europeans for centuries. Pitcavage believes the movement resulted from blacks familiar with Moorish Science coming into contact with the overwhelmingly white anti-government movement and melding the two.
Some Moorish nationals are overtly strange. Take, for example, the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, an Egyptian-themed, Georgia-based sect whose self-described extraterrestrial leader, Dwight "Malachi" York, was convicted on child-molestation and racketeering charges last week. In a different case last year, he pleaded guilty to molestation charges, but the judge rejected the deal, calling the 15-year prison sentence too lenient. It wasn't a good year for York: In May, the aliens that he'd predicted were coming for him and his followers left him hanging.
The Nuwaubians have tried unsuccessfully to argue that they are descendants of Africans who'd settled in North America before continental drift, and that their 476-acre estate was therefore a sovereign nation. The same reasoning -- we were here first, so we don't have to obey their rules -- seems to have inspired the combining of Moorish nationalism and redemption.
Detective Cleland believes Bailey learned of Moorish nationalism from David Saxton, an upstate New York man who came to Cleveland for an Untaxers seminar. Saxton was affiliated with a Michigan Moorish group, the Washitaw Nation.
In March 2001, Bailey and Saxton attempted to use sight drafts to purchase a Cadillac and a Lexus from a dealership in Rochester, New York. They'd learned the trick from Ron Lutz, who'd led a small party to DeLorean Cadillac in Lakewood during his visit a few weeks earlier. That Lutz had been arrested -- he'd foolishly, or perhaps arrogantly, chosen a dealership that had been scammed the same way in 1999 -- seems not to have bothered Bailey. Presumably he was not surprised when he and Saxton were arrested.
Bailey would later take a plea, but fail to show up for sentencing. Apparently, he was too busy exploring the opportunities presented by Moorish nationalism.
Over time, Bailey developed contacts with Moors in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Georgia, and arranged for some to appear at local seminars. By June 2001, he filed paperwork with numerous county, state, and federal departments, declaring his new status as a "noble of the Al Moroccan Empire."
Timothy Littlejohn stood out the first time he wandered into Lynn's Floodwater Café, a rustic but cozy biker bar on Canal Road in Valley View, in the summer of 2001. For starters, he was black; owner Lynn Kepler says her crowd is "about 99.9 percent white." And when he picked up the microphone -- it was karaoke night -- he shook the rafters with a voice seemingly too powerful to come from a diminutive, fiftysomething man. The regulars were impressed. On subsequent visits, Littlejohn proved friendly and generous. He often bought rounds.
He was usually accompanied by a woman he introduced as his wife. On two or three occasions, he also brought a friend named Charles Bailey. But Bailey was always overdressed -- he looked "like he had money," Kepler recalls -- and was as aloof as Littlejohn was outgoing. When Bailey came with Littlejohn, they usually had one drink and left. The one thing Kepler remembers him saying to her, other than hello, was that Littlejohn was wealthy and that he, Bailey, was his financial advisor.
Sure enough, Littlejohn eventually came to Kepler with an offer. He'd overheard her discussing her plans to buy the building, which she'd been leasing. Her financing had already been approved, but Littlejohn advised her to get out of the deal. He was looking for investments, he said, and he'd lend her the $500,000 with no interest.
Kepler was wary but intrigued. She'd lost both parents that year and wasn't always thinking clearly; she wondered fleetingly if her late mother's spirit had some hand in this stunning offer. "So I called his bluff," she says.
Soon, however, Littlejohn began to change his tune. First he said his money was tied up. Then he said he could provide an $80,000 down payment, which he delivered to the title company -- in the form of a check, Kepler assumed. But when the title company rejected it, she learned it was a sight draft.
When she confronted Littlejohn, he insisted that the document was good and said he'd look into it. Then he came back with a sight draft for $750,000 and said she should cash it and give $250,000 back to him. Kepler sent a copy to her daughter, a banker in Florida, who warned Kepler that it was worthless. Turning from skeptical to annoyed, Kepler decided again to call Littlejohn's bluff. After depositing the draft, she was informed it was "garbage."
"I said, 'Look, I don't know what you guys are into, I don't want to know, but I don't want any part of it,'" she says. It was her last encounter with Littlejohn, as investor or karaoke singer, but she'd see Bailey once more.
Prior to Littlejohn's retirement from RTA's career-development and training department in 2001, a co-worker gave him a copy of a book on avoiding income taxes. Further research led him to Untaxers seminars. That's where he met Bailey. They found that they shared a passion for fishing and an interest in business opportunities that would allow them to fish a lot. Lynn Kepler's café was just one of many stops on their road to financial freedom.
Ironically, the county may have inadvertently contributed to their faith in redemption. After Ron Lutz was arrested, Bailey participated in "paper-terrorism" attacks on his behalf. Local redemptionists attempted to place the dealership owner, three Lakewood detectives, and some county judges into involuntary bankruptcy by making false claims about unpaid debts; Bailey delivered the paperwork. Later, the county dropped charges related to Bailey's phony "Prince Charles" ID. So he may have believed that his tactics were working.
Whatever the case, he, Littlejohn, and some relatives attempted to pass $2 million to $3 million worth of sight drafts in 2001. They used drafts to scam $38,000 from Citibank and $80,000 from Ohio Savings. Bailey bought $40,000 worth of computers from Gateway and tried unsuccessfully to purchase $3,000 worth of shoes.
Not even Lutz's fall slowed them. They passed at least 3 more drafts after Lutz was convicted on various fraud and theft charges in August 2001, and 11 more after Lutz was sentenced to 17 years. Bailey either didn't realize or didn't care that the county's "Straw Man Task Force" was slowly unraveling the scheme. Kasaris had dropped the fake-ID charges only to give himself time to nail all the local redemptionists at once.
New York would get a piece of Bailey first. In November 2001, Stark County picked him up for failing to appear for his sentencing hearing in Rochester on the luxury-car scam. He spent about three months in jail before being extradited. But New York gave him credit for time served and cut him loose.
In 2002, Bailey switched tactics. Between trips to Michigan, Georgia, and South Carolina -- "doing his thing as prime minister" of the Al Moroccan Empire, as Detective Cleland puts it -- Bailey dabbled in "bills of exchange," another type of worthless document used by redemptionists. "Every time you think you've got a handle on the theory," Cleland says, "they alter it."
But it didn't matter. By then, county investigators were as versed in redemption as its followers; they'd been gathering evidence on Northeast Ohio practitioners for two years. In August 2002, the county indicted 17 people -- including a few out-of-state collaborators -- on numerous fraud, theft, and intimidation charges, and all but one were promptly rounded up.
Tipped off by Littlejohn's daughter, Bailey fled. But he soon wrote a letter to Kasaris, saying that he wanted to handle the matter "administratively." The return address was Bailey's home in Canton; his wife obviously had forwarded it. So Kasaris wrote back, asking the U.S. Postal Service to track his response after Dionne Bailey passed it along.
The letter was sent on to a post office box in Georgia, where Bailey was known to have Moorish contacts. He was nabbed when he tried to pick it up. He was carrying nine forms of identification that claimed he was Shareef Malik El, Bey.
About a year after telling Littlejohn to take his homemade checks elsewhere, Lynn Kepler heard from the county prosecutor's office. After an interview, authorities acknowledged that she was not involved in Littlejohn and Bailey's scams. She was asked to testify, however, and says that she was nervous when told in spring 2003 that unlike Littlejohn, Bailey had refused to plead out. Recalling her day in court, she crosses her arms and narrows her eyes, miming the way Bailey glared at her from the defense table.
He didn't wear his red tunic and fez to court, but he might as well have done so. He acted as wacky as he looks in his fake-ID photo.
Kasaris and fellow assistant county prosecutor Nick Geigerich can't help but laugh when they talk about Bailey's trial. He tried to pay his bond with a bill of exchange. In a handwritten motion, he wrote "all rights reserved" after his Moorish name, then referred to himself repeatedly as "The One." He argued with everyone -- the prosecutors, the judge, even his court-appointed attorney, Dorothy Bretnall. When she balked at asking him questions he'd prepared -- redemptionist mumbo-jumbo pertaining to such matters as jurisdiction -- he took the stand and asked and answered the questions himself.
Bailey had demanded to represent himself, but when he refused to sign the required waiver, the judge forced him to keep Bretnall. Bailey was so combative, however, that at one point Bretnall pleaded for a continuance; the carefully worded motion suggests that her client was driving her nuts. "Counsel made a concerted effort, apparently without success, to insure that Mr. Bailey really understands the consequences of his actions, both with respect to the charges and his course of conduct in court . . . He obviously has mental health issues. There may be a need for psychiatric medications." Unfortunately for Bretnall, this was several months after a psychiatrist had already declared him fit to stand trial.
Bailey's defense, such as it was, revolved around the legally preposterous notion that he was innocent because he honestly believed in the validity of his actions. One motion touched on this: "With respect to the charges involving financial transactions, the state must prove that Mr. Bailey himself knew and understood that the instruments were spurious. With respect to the charges of intimidation and retaliation [his "paper terrorism" activities], the state must prove that Mr. Bailey, not his Redemptionist or Moorish friends, intended to intimidate and retaliate."
Littlejohn, who'd taken a plea that got him one year, testified against Bailey. He admitted to having been uncomfortable with Moorish nationalism's teachings on the unnatural origins of whites (the result of cross-breeding with chimps) and its fascination with extraterrestrials. (He once told his mistress that aliens would be coming to pick them up on Canal Road, apparently because that's where they happened to be at the time. "It always comes back to the spaceships," Geigerich says.)
Kasaris is convinced that Bailey knew as well as anyone that he was full of shit, but that Bailey decided to ride it out anyway. One of his letters to his wife seems to support this. "I am playing this game to the hilt," he wrote. "I am out for mine, and I will fight to the bitter end, I need to be paid."
"He believed," Littlejohn says of Bailey. "Oh, he believed."
Unlike Bailey, Littlejohn has much to say. In a letter to Scene and an interview at North Coast Correctional Institution in Grafton, he goes on at length about redemption and Moorish theory. In fact, he's not easily steered off the topics; he answers questions about himself and Bailey briefly, then returns to history. When he really gets rolling, one leg bounces up and down under the table, causing his body to shake.
His second-favorite subject is how they were "railroaded." Despite his guilty plea, despite all the evidence presented at Bailey's trial -- including bank surveillance photos showing the two of them -- Littlejohn maintains that he did nothing more than unwittingly pass a bad check. His arrest, and those of his wife and daughter? Scare tactics, he says, intended to force him to turn in others. The search warrants for his house? Illegal, and the basis for a lawsuit he won't discuss. The money he was accused of stealing? His own, a lump-sum retirement payment, stored in offshore accounts (and since stolen from him by "a hacker").
The aliens? The whole "white-people-came-from-monkeys" idea? He smiles uncomfortably, saying that Moorish nationalism was Bailey's thing. He's a Jehovah's Witness, he says, and is done with everything else.
"I dabbled in something I shouldn't have dabbled in," he says, "and I got burned. If I had stayed under Jehovah's protective blanket, I wouldn't be here."
It's the most rational statement he makes. But he is not crazy in the conventional sense of the word. Nor, by all accounts, is Bailey, who remains committed to Moorishness, Littlejohn says. (They were held in the same prison for a while.) They seem to be reasonably intelligent and otherwise law-abiding men who were dazzled by a belief system so complex, so empowering, that it just had to be right.
"If the American people actually knew what was going on with the banking system, there'd be a revolution," Littlejohn says. "But that's not for me . . . Maybe, next time, I need to watch my associations. Time is short. It's later than most people think."