An Arizona federal judge has dismissed an eight-count tax evasion indictment against an Arizona man who says his family infuriated Oklahoma Panhandle residents by outbidding them for school land leases, some of which had been leased by the same Oklahoma families for generations.
Phoenix federal Judge Roslyn O. Silver tossed out all eight counts Thursday against international land developer James R. Parker, 63, of Carefree, Ariz.
The abrupt dismissal came on Day 9 of the jury trial after government prosecutors had finished presenting witnesses. The judge found prosecutors had failed to support their accusations and tossed out the indictment without hearing from defense witnesses.
Several Oklahoma Panhandle ranchers and the assistant secretary of the Oklahoma Commissioners of the Land Office testified during the trial as government attorneys tried to support allegations that Parker had engaged in elaborate schemes to hide certain assets and evade paying more than $1.2 million in taxes, penalties and interest.
Parker contended all along that he didn't scheme to hide assets, but that properties were owned by limited liability corporations established by his children to protect assets and for estate planning purposes. One of those properties was a Cimarron County ranch.
“It was ridiculous,” said Michael Minns, Parker's attorney. “The government put a bunch of people on the stand to complain that the Parkers took their land.”
Minns said Parker never took their land.
What happened was Parker's children outbid them for leases on more than 24,000 acres of state school trust lands that the ranchers' families had been leasing from the Oklahoma Commissioners of the Land Office for decades at prices the Parkers believe were far below fair market value, said the Brookshire, Texas, attorney.
Parker has told The Oklahoman that what his family did was good for the state's schoolchildren, since proceeds from leases of school trust lands go for the benefit of Oklahoma's common and higher education schools.
However, the action touched off what his family has described as a Wild West-style land war.
“They killed my dog,” Parker's son, Samuel Parker, told The Oklahoman in March 2011.
The son, who was 28 at the time, said angry locals also cut his fences, made threats, sabotaged his windmills and fired shots over the heads of ranch hands.
James Parker said state Commissioners of the Land Office personnel joined local ranchers in efforts to run his family off, swapping portions of the land his children had leased for less valuable land with limited access to water. When the Parkers responded by asking to cancel the lease, officials attempted to force continued payments and seized and sold the ranch.
James Parker said he believes Commissioners of the Land Office personnel also pushed for the Internal Revenue Service investigation, which could have gotten him up to 32 years in prison if he had been convicted of the four counts of tax evasion and four counts of making false statements.
Now that the tax case is resolved, he said he intends to push forward with lawsuits in Oklahoma County and Cimarron County in an effort to “get the ranch back and collect financial damages for everything that was done.”
Commissioners of the Land Office personnel have denied instigating the IRS investigation or mistreating the Parkers.
They contend the Parkers created many of their own problems by being contentious and allowing cattle to roam on the property of neighbors.