Serial Tiller

When it comes to ripping people off, John Tiller and the Civil Rights Legal Defense Team just keep going and going

Once the federal investigation began, Judge Calvin revoked Tiller's probation and sent him to prison. Once again, Tiller begged for a break. "I will agree to anything you order, but please give me the chance to get out and try ... a good job, a genuine job that will not bring me problems like being in business for myself," he wrote in one of many letters to the judge. "Please give me this last chance to prove to my family and to you and to myself I can change. Please."

Listing $71,000 in debts, Tiller filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the name of National Locate Service Corporation, one of his business entities. But Tiller was no more successful at declaring bankruptcy than he was at convincing Calvin to release him. The court tossed the case because Tiller used himself as attorney, which isn't allowed in corporate bankruptcies. Tiller filed a motion demanding a refund of his $600 filing fee on the grounds that someone in the courthouse should have told him he couldn't play lawyer, but, as with virtually all of Tiller's legal pleadings, a judge dismissed the motion.

Postal inspectors subpoenaed Tiller's business files but ended up serving a search warrant after an employee told them that Tiller, when served with the subpoena at his probation-revocation hearing, had instructed him to destroy records and send computers to his father's house.

Roy Tompkins
It was during his time in Leavenworth that John Tiller says he realized inmates needed legal help: "I saw people beaten, I saw people abused, I saw people set up, I saw everything."
It was during his time in Leavenworth that John Tiller says he realized inmates needed legal help: "I saw people beaten, I saw people abused, I saw people set up, I saw everything."

Besides taking money from clients without providing services, Tiller had been ordering goods and services, with no intention of paying, according to the federal indictment. Furthermore, when vendors who'd been stiffed refused to deal with him again, Tiller placed additional orders using different names, again refusing to pay. The grand jury also accused him of selling goods he hadn't paid for.

As always, Tiller had an explanation.

In a 1993 letter to the media, Tiller wrote from his prison cell that the feds served the search warrant because he had investigated dirty cops, prosecutors, judges and a bail bondsman turned drug dealer. He accused prosecutors of engaging in homosexual acts with juvenile delinquents and claimed to have photographs. The conspiracy against him, he insisted, rose all the way to the U.S. attorney's office. "[T]he real reason they wanted the search warrants was to obtain and destroy the files on their close friends to prevent me from disclosing them to the media and for the crooks they really are," he wrote.

Hogwash, said Assistant U.S. Attorney David Rosen, who challenged Tiller to put up or shut up. In a court brief, Rosen said he was ready to prosecute any crooked public officials and demanded that Tiller immediately identify the police officers and other government officials he was investigating, as well as the cases in which they were being investigated.

No proof was forthcoming.

Tiller delayed the inevitable as long as possible, switching attorneys at least three times on the grounds that his lawyers were ineffective or had conflicts of interest. He said he would plead guilty, then balked during the plea hearing, prompting the judge to reject his guilty plea and order a mental evaluation. (By that time, prosecutors were already convinced they might have an unbalanced man on their hands, but a judge had rejected their request for a psychiatric exam six months earlier.) The state paroled Tiller after 14 months in prison, releasing him to the custody of the federal government. His parents bailed him out of jail, getting the $5,000 from a credit-card cash advance, and he was ordered to a halfway house.

In a letter to U.S. District Court Judge Carol E. Jackson, Tiller's parents included a copy of their credit-card statement and wrote that the bulk of the $14,800 in cash advances on their bill had gone to their son. "Most cash advances were used for John's business, at least we thought," James Tiller wrote. "John always promised he would pay us back when the business got going. But this did not happen. We questioned John on many occasions, were's [sic] the money. Excuses were always forthcoming."

If nothing else, Tiller was shameless.

Once free on bond, Tiller said he would work out of his apartment as a self-employed skip tracer on behalf of clients who were aware of his legal situation. He promised that he wouldn't enter into contracts with vendors. After the court approved the request, Tiller asked the judge to allow him to work for his father's skip-tracing business, which was incorporated one week before he filed his motion to work there. Noting that James Tiller had no experience in the skip-tracing field, U.S. Magistrate Judge Catherine Perry rejected that idea and removed a bail condition requiring Tiller to work or seek employment. Allowing Tiller to go back to the same kind of business that had led to his indictment would pose a danger to the community, she ruled.

Tiller finally pleaded guilty to four of the twenty counts in exchange for the other charges' being dropped. Federal investigators who combed through Tiller's records had trouble figuring out exactly how much money he had stolen -- the final tally in a pre-sentencing report was $115,628 from Burt, who had received a modicum of service, and $10,390 from other victims. Jackson blamed Tiller's greed for any uncertainty.

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