Moody, Dever sentenced in sovereign citizen ‘phony writs’ case
Two defendants who pleaded guilty in federal court for their roles in communicating threats to dozens if not hundreds of elected officials, judges and public figures across the nation and across Western North Carolina have finally learned their fates, as U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger handed down sentences in Asheville on Aug. 24.
“I think the judge did the best he could under the circumstances,” said Anthony Sutton, a member of the Waynesville Town Council and one of the 57 victims of Haywood County resident Darris Moody and Chicago-area man Timothy Dever. “I’m satisfied.”
The verdicts came just one year after The Smoky Mountain News was first to report on a series of threatening faxes from an unknown sender that were received by a host of officials across the region.
Called “writs of execution,” the faxes had nothing to do with capital punishment but instead purported to satisfy a judgement issued by a non-existent environmental court that pronounced defendants guilty in absentia of treason and of poisoning the nation’s drinking water supply.
On condition of anonymity, one of the recipients shared the phony writ that they received with SMN. It demanded a $1 million fine, and that the recipient surrender themselves to a “tribunal.” Those who failed to comply would be subject to citizens’ arrest by anyone interested in collecting bounties of up to $20,000.
Further investigation by SMN traced the phony writs back to Moody, a Haywood County woman, who got them from the now-deleted website of an organization calling itself “The People’s Bureau of Investigation,” run by Dever.
The site also provided a robust database where those who had “served” the writs could post the names and addresses of the officials they served them to. All told, SMN identified nearly 1,000 writs served to people in 41 states — Democrats and Republicans, federal, state and local.
Dever and Moody spoke with SMN prior to their arrests. Dever asserted that the writs were legitimate, while Moody admitted to sending them.
Both espoused sovereign citizen ideology, the core of which avers that by reciting some incantation of cobbled-together conspiracy theories and archaic legal terminology, so-called “sov-cits” can somehow utilize long-overlooked loopholes to assert their independence from governments, law enforcement agencies, taxing authorities, public utilities, licensing bureaus and anything they don’t like.
Moody was arrested by the FBI just three hours after the publication of the SMN story that revealed her identity.
Amid the protestations of Assistant U.S. Attorney Don Gast, Moody was granted bond on Sept. 12, 2022, by Magistrate Judge Carleton Metcalf on the condition that she appear as ordered before a court whose jurisdiction she freely admitted she didn’t recognize.
On Oct. 14, 2022, Moody failed to show up for her arraignment on 59 violations of 18 USC 875, interstate threatening communication. She was taken back into custody later that day and held without bond until trial.
By Dec. 14, 2022, Moody’s case had grown into an interstate conspiracy, with the addition of two new defendants, Dever and Dee Thomas Murphy of Austin, Texas.
In January of this year, Moody finally acknowledged the jurisdiction of the United States justice system by signing a plea agreement. Dever later did so as well.
Despite the well-documented intrigues of the case, as the months wore on and the court unsealed more and more documents, they provided even more insight into what, exactly, Darris Moody and Tim Dever had done.
‘An affront to American democracy’
According to the government’s sentencing memorandum, interstate threats to kidnap or injure others usually involve a single victim, but Moody’s threats were “very different, both in scope and in content.”
Moody, it reads, put dozens of victims “in reasonable fear that armed, anti-government conspiracy theorists might invade their homes and arrest them for a cash bounty because of the victims’ dedication to public service.”
Still, the government only sought a sentence within the applicable guideline range for 18 USC 875 (c) — up to five years imprisonment — despite the “substantial” aggravating circumstances and despite the government’s position that the guidelines aren’t reflective of the seriousness of the offense. Their recommendation was between 30 and 37 months.
Prosecutors outlined the gravity of the threats by noting the cash bounty offer, the PBI database that contained the home addresses of the victims and the fact that the victims weren’t just threatened by an individual but rather by an organization that “hid behind the mask of being ‘of the people.’”
Moody’s threats required deliberation and premeditation and weren’t simple “guttural snarls in the darkness,” per the memo. Instead, the memo reads, they were “an affront to American democracy.”
The memo also anticipated the defense’s position on sentencing, saying that Moody’s plea deal had already accounted for any mitigating circumstances and that a downward variance from the sentencing guidelines would be inappropriate especially because of the “staggering” number of victims.
The government’s sentencing memorandum for Dever includes language similar to Moody’s memo, but recognizes Dever’s larger role in disseminating the threats much more broadly than Moody did — more than 900 in at least 32 states.
It mentions the cash bounty offer, the PBI database and the organizational nature of the threats, calling them “chilling” and naming Moody as Dever’s agent in Western North Carolina.
“The Defendant published the documents, trained his supporters how to serve them, promised monetary rewards, and provided the means to post his victims’ personal information on his website,” it reads.
In one of the training videos, Dever declares his intent to “abolish our government” and therefore target American democracy and the rule of law. Evidence gathered from Dever’s phone shows disturbing messages promoting violence against government officials, including his need for “lots of tarps.” In communications with sovereign citizen and anti-government activist Rod Class, Dever produces several photos of a pistol and asks Class to arrange a meeting so that Dever could give the pistol to “the trigger man.”
In further messages to Moody’s husband, Charles Moody, Dever said that in a perfect world he should be able to go to federal marshals, tell them that he’s going to apprehend the judge and prosecutor and then “take them out back and shoot them in the head.”
Other messages sent by Dever after his initial arrest mention tar and feathers, killing FBI agents, and a plan to arrest the judge and prosecutor on Nov. 28, 2022.
“You just need to arrest these bastards while I record it. We the people need to start taking communists down! I will bring the tarps and be there Monday,” Dever wrote to an unspecified recipient. “They have overstayed their visit here in this timeline.”
Even after Dever’s March 23 guilty plea, he continued to make threats, according to Gast.
A jailhouse informant told the FBI that Dever had pledged violence against Metcalf and U.S. Attorney Dena King. According to the informant, Dever considered looking for the schools King’s children attended as well as her home address so he could arrest her, place her in a FEMA camp and execute her by setting her on fire.
“The bitch is going to get it,” Dever told the informant.
In other phone calls two weeks after his guilty plea, Dever talked about beheading King for treason.
“Dever’s ideology is violent and extreme; and his recent activities demonstrate that he is not remorseful, despite his guilty plea,” the memo reads.
Prosecutors sought a sentence of 180 months.
Meanwhile, in the defense’s sentencing memorandum, Dever’s attorney, Howard W. Anderson III, argued for leniency by stating that although Dever crossed the line from protected First Amendment speech to criminal threats, it was “all talk” and the government had produced “no evidence of any actual or attempted violence” in Dever’s past or in relation to the case.
“No stockpiled guns. No casing of victims’ homes. No practice runs. Mr. Dever certainly talked — too much and, at times, about inappropriate things [but] if actions speak louder than words, inaction should, too,” reads the memo.
After undergoing a psychological test this past May, Dever was noted to have “overcome ‘some of his previously held extreme overvalued beliefs,’ ultimately making a ‘marked improvement,’” according to the memo, which then ponders whether prison is the appropriate environment for Dever to continue his journey to wellness.
Dever’s attorney also made a pitch for the judge to avoid sentencing disparities by comparing Dever’s proposed sentence to those of several people convicted in relation to the events of Jan. 6, 2021.
Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs received sentences of 18 and 12 years, respectively, for their roles in organizing and executing the breach of the U.S. Capitol building. Dever’s conduct, the memo argues, doesn’t rise to that level and therefore neither should his sentence.
On Aug. 21, Dever filed with the court five letters of support, including from a cousin, an uncle, two sisters and his wife of 30 years, who said that Dever spent considerable time and money on the PBI website in order to help his fellow citizens avoid “poisoned water,” but that he went about it in the wrong way.
“During our many years together he has believed in several conspiracy theories. He went into overdrive during COVID. I did not agree with what he did, but he got carried away with himself and seemed to believe what he heard from others,” she wrote.
Moody, too, filed 10 letters of support from aunts, uncles, friends, a pair of Baptist pastors and a cousin in Waynesville who said he was shocked when he heard of her actions. They all asked for leniency based on Moody’s history as a church pianist and gospel performer and described her variously as kind and humble but brainwashed.
Moody also filed a report by a forensic psychologist who evaluated her in March. The report chronicles Moody’s sad, slow devolution from respected community member and small business owner to convicted felon.
Her background is relatively pedestrian, with no significant history of criminal behavior or drug or alcohol abuse. She received minor psychiatric treatment for a fear of heights and was prescribed Lexapro, commonly used for depression and anxiety, which she used until her arrest.
In 2013 Moody lost her father, which is said to have affected her deeply. In June 2020, Moody had disagreements with members of her church over COVID masking, which led to the Moodys severing ties with them.
In 2021, around the time Moody retired, she and her husband attended an event in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, about child sex trafficking, which she said was “the seminal event in her becoming interested in conspiracy theories which became the belief basis for her offense conduct,” according to the evaluation.
Around that same time, Moody was diagnosed with adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety.
The evaluation concludes by presenting several mitigating factors for Moody, including her work history, positive relationships, history of volunteer work, absence of addiction or of antisocial or violent behavior, lack of risk for future violence, further presentation of undiagnosed psychiatric symptoms, lack of financial gain from her offense and her “high-level coping skill through lifelong investment in music.”
The sentencing memo filed by Moody’s attorney asks the judge to recognize that “there is so much more to Mrs. Moody than this crime,” and includes sympathetic photos of Moody performing in church, holding her newborn daughter and smiling with her granddaughter. It also presents the same arguments made in the letters of support — her history of involvement with the church, her retirement, her financial problems, her growing sense of isolation and her need for personal interaction.
Darris Moody. File photo
“Suddenly, Mrs. Moody began to feel like all the stable, grounding forces in her life were slipping away,” the memo reads. “She began a downward spiral after this.”
That Moody has had “a lot of time to reflect on her actions” in the 10 months she’s spent at the jail is noted in the memo, as is her remorse and desire to “turn back time and take back all of the harm she caused the victims here.”
The memo argues for a downward variance in sentencing due to her charitable service in church, her mental and emotional condition and her remorse. Moody’s attorney asked for a sentence of time served.
On Aug. 25, Moody and Dever were led into a federal courtroom in Asheville, shackled and emotionless, in drab earth-toned jumpsuits.
“Obviously having a joint sentencing hearing is far out of the ordinary for all of us,” Reidinger said from the bench, explaining that because some of the victims were in attendance, it would be easier for them to deliver impact statements.
Reidinger heard from defense attorneys who reiterated their requests for leniency. Although Moody had some objections to the presentencing report, she withdrew them and Reidinger accepted her plea agreement.
Dever, on the other hand, made several objections to his presentencing report — specifically, enhancements to the sentencing guidelines that could have put him away for 15 years. His attorney restated his assertion that there were no concrete plans, no stockpiles of guns, no casing of victims’ homes, no actions to warrant a six-level enhancement.
Gast countered by mentioning that there was sufficient evidence to support the enhancements because the violent threats were real, whether they were ultimately realized or not.
“This notion of ‘just talk’ is nonsense,” Gast said. “This was not a joke. This was not satire.”
Dever’s objection was overruled, prompting him to whisper angrily to his attorney and shake his head. Dever then interrupted Reidinger, saying that he might have to fire his attorney. Marshals led Dever out of the courtroom to confer with his attorney in private. They returned minutes later, and Dever opted to retain his attorney rather than proceed pro se.
His next objection, about a four-level enhancement for taking a “leadership role” in the offenses, was also overruled. Dever’s attorney claimed the PBI is a decentralized organization with no real leader, but Reidinger didn’t buy it.
Clearly frustrated, Dever at times slumped in his chair, rubbing his temples and placing his head on the table.
Gast then countered with an objection of his own, pushing for an enhancement for obstruction of justice. Dever had apparently asked others to blockade the Buncombe County Detention Center to prevent the transfer of Moody. Reidinger said that Dever’s hyperbole was not an actual attempt to obstruct.
Reidinger then accepted Dever’s plea agreement, and moved on to impact statements from victims — public officials who had been “served” with the phony writs.
Donna Forga, a district court judge, said that the defendants had taken her “peace” and affected her ability to participate in activities involving her grandchildren. She was also concerned about the safety of her husband, who was ill and homebound. After being served with the phony writ, Forga attended her high school reunion and became rattled when someone joked to her about collecting the bounty. She left the event. Having known both Darris and Charles Moody since high school, Forga said she couldn’t believe the Darris she knew would act in such a manner, but openly wondered, “Who else has been emboldened to act this way?”
Moody, head in hands, appeared to sob.
Roy Wijewickrama, chief N.C. district court judge, recalled being rendered “speechless” when he received his copy of the phony writ. Like Forga, Wijewickrama said he knew what he signed up for when he decided to become a judge but called Moody’s threat “beyond troubling” and said he was worried about his wife and kids.
“What we’re dealing with here today, I just can’t understand,” he told Reidinger.
Julia Freeman, an elected member of the Waynesville Town Council, told Reidinger that she would never forget receiving a call from a friend who told her about seeing a warrant at the post office with her name on it. She was deeply disturbed by the call and made a call of her own to the Haywood County sheriff, who told her, ‘This is not a real warrant, but it is a real threat.’” Freeman is the longtime director of Haywood County’s domestic violence nonprofit and said that one of the addresses posted on the PBI database was actually the group’s secret safehouse for victims fleeing violent or abusive living arrangements.
“I am now always looking over my shoulder,” she said. “I have been harmed, but I am not broken.”
Freeman’s fellow Waynesville Town Council Member, Anthony Sutton, called the threats “calculated and malicious” and mentioned the anguish the phony writs had caused his loved ones.
“While I am thankful that law enforcement intervened in time to prevent the full realization of this horrific crime, I remain forever changed by the events that transpired,” Sutton said. “The sense of security and freedom that I once took for granted has been shattered, replaced by a haunting feeling of vulnerability and helplessness.”
Once the victims were through, Reidinger asked Moody’s attorney, Assistant Federal Defender Emily Jones, for her recommended sentence. Jones again asked for time served and a short period of home confinement, saying that Moody got caught up during a vulnerable time in her life and that she was “in the thrall of this organization.” Gast responded by saying that because the government didn’t seek an upward variance in the sentence, Moody had already received all the mercy she should expect.
“This case has a uniquely high need for general deterrence,” Gast said, noting that there were “many more Mrs. Moodys” out there.
“The court’s judgement needs to tell people, ‘Knock it off. No more,’” Gast said.
Moody then addressed Reidinger, apologizing to the court, the victims and their families and promising it would never happen again.
“I’m still in shock that I even listened to such deception and misinformation,” she said, expressing a desire to restart her life and rejoin her community.
Reidinger asked Dever’s attorney for his recommended sentence. Anderson said he understood and empathized with Dever’s victims, and hearkened back to the “inaction” clause in his sentencing memo. He also said that Dever had come a long way since his arrest last year.
Gast repeated his call for a “modest upward variance” in the sentencing guidelines and called Dever the “mastermind, creator, promoter and recruiter” of the entire scheme.
“Defendant said he fell down a rabbit hole during COVID,” Gast said. “He dug that hole.”
Repeating his desire for general deterrence, Gast said that Dever had been present in Washington, D.C. during the Jan. 6 insurrection and that on Aug. 18, just six days before their court appearance, Dever made phone calls questioning the jurisdiction of the court.
When Dever finally addressed that court, he put his hand on a Bible and swore that many of the things Gast had said were simply not true, and that the jailhouse informant was also lying about Dever’s alleged threats against court personnel. Dever spent several minutes trying to relitigate his case, maligning the investigation, the prosecution and his defense attorney before stating that he was still “in shock” because so many of the facts brought out in court were “beyond [his] imagination.”
His hands shaking, Dever read from a lengthy missive he’d penned, apologizing for his bad decisions and blaming Dee Thomas Murphy — originally part of the investigation before he passed away in January — as the ringleader. Murphy, Dever said, led him to believe that it was his duty to stand against “poisoned water” and “overreach” by federal, state and local governments during the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Dever, shaking and crying, related incidents from his childhood and ended his speech by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Two defendants, one fate
“It goes without saying that these cases are among the most unusual and out-of-the-ordinary to come before this court in some time,” Reidinger said, echoing his comments at the beginning of the hearing. “But there are lots of things that don’t add up.”
Among them were that Dever started the PBI supposedly to protect people’s rights, but then proceeded to issue phony writs from a sham court that offered no due process rights to the accused, who were judged “guilty” in absentia.
“The offense conduct in these two cases can only be described as tyrannical,” Reidinger said, later adding “vindictive” to the description.
He compared the sham court’s proceedings to the show trials conducted by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in the late 1930s. Stalin used the trials to purge political opponents with trumped-up charges that often resulted in defendants being executed or worked to death in gulags.
“But in Stalin’s show trials, at least there was a ‘trial,’” Reidinger said.
Another thing that didn’t add up for Reidinger was hearing about who the defendants were before they became ensnared in a web of conspiracy theories, misinformation and outright lies. Moody was a well-regarded businesswoman and churchgoer. Dever was a successful entrepreneur and caring family man.
But perhaps the most striking incongruity was the defendants’ self-identified reverence for the founders, and the founding documents — the principles and guardrails of participatory democracy that the defendants ignored and ultimately sought to overthrow.
Reidinger concluded by saying that you can dislike the federal government all you want, and that you can dislike your state government all you want, and that you can dislike your local government all you want, and that you can complain loudly about any or all of them, but you cannot threaten to overthrow them.
He sentenced Moody, 57, to 24 months imprisonment for one count of making an interstate threatening communication, with three years of supervised release after her confinement ends.
Dever, whose involvement in the dissemination of the writs made him a much more important figure than Moody, got 60 months of imprisonment for each of five counts of aiding and abetting interstate threatening communication, but some of the sentences will run concurrently, resulting in 120 months of incarceration. He’ll be 67 years old when he’s freed.
Wijewickrama said he was very satisfied with the sentences and that they were appropriate given the crimes and the circumstances.
Freeman, like Wijewickrama and Sutton, agreed.
“I believe in free speech,” Freeman said, adding that she thought the sentences were fair. “But people can’t make threats against you and your family. They have to have respect for the government and the rule of law.”