By Phil Corso
After being cleared on FBI charges of sending a death threat to one bank in Pennsylvania, a Bayside man said he was weighing whether to take action against the government in civil court.
Last month, a jury in Brooklyn Federal Court took less than one hour to acquit Michael Chung, 52, clearing him on charges of sending a malicious message to a Sovereign Bank in Pottsville, Pa.
But the Bayside man still spent nearly three months behind bars as prosecutors said he was unfit for bail due to his alleged affiliation with the Sovereign Citizen Movement, which claims not to believe in federal law nor paying taxes and has been classified as a terrorist group by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“I don’t know how practical it is to try to have a ‘dialogue’ without forcing the issue with a lawsuit,” Chung said. “I want to show restraint and appreciation for the good aspects of the government and see where that goes.”
The U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District in Brooklyn had no comment on the case.
Though Chung denied he was part of the radical group, which has been linked to Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, his lawyer Ephraim Savitt said he did have some identification with its philosophy. His affiliation with them, however, ended at his dislike for taxes and never led to violence, Savitt said.
Chung said in his three months awaiting trial at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, he saw both the dark and lighter sides of the justice system from his initial arrest in August to when he was tried and found innocent Oct. 25.
“My wife and family suffered incredibly,” Chung told TimesLedger Newspapers. “Other than that, I think I am better for the wear, and learned a lot from the time.”
The FBI accused Chung of sending a threatening fax to his Pennsylvania bank Aug. 6 because of a $179,000 debt left on a home equity loan issued by the bank, preventing him from selling his Bayside condo. In the criminal complaint filed by the U.S. attorney’s office, the FBI said the fax referred to Chung’s Second Amendment rights to eliminate the debt as a “deadly force to protect my interests as a national citizen,” which could have sent him to jail for up to five years.
But aside from the copy of the fax, which the FBI said appeared to include Chung’s signature, the jury’s chief evidence came from a surveillance video taken when the fax in question was sent from a Bayside Staples store. Though the footage appeared to show an Asian man sending the fax, several of Chung’s neighbors testified that it was not him.
Looking ahead, Chung said he wanted to consider his options before committing himself to another legal battle against the U.S. attorney’s office and FBI. He said he would try to pioneer new ways the government could pursue cases like his and establish some sort of dialogue to determine the most appropriate way to balance the books with the government.
“Suing the government is a very serious thing,” Chung said. “We are still in the consideration stage. We prefer not to sue, but to explore other channels.”
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-457