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April 1st, 2013
 

APRIL FOOLS: Madam Shannon’s Empire

Shannon, left, joins Liberty Iowa PAC executive director Adil Khan, congressional candidate Rod Blum of Dubuque, and Republican state Sen. nominee Will Johnson of Dubuque

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa—Meet Randi Shannon, a former Republican state senate candidate and shadow Senator of an insurgent federal republic.

The fate of the Republic of the united States (RuSA), a rag-tag rebel alliance of sovereign citizens, tax protestors and outlaws, hangs in the balance as the United States of America (USA) won the conviction of the movement’s charismatic president this month. Shannon, a 45-year-old blonde bombshell from Iowa, might be its only hope to stave off total annihilation by President Barack Obama’s galactic empire.

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Shannon is an inspired candidate for princess of the resurgent rebellion. The 45-year-old socialite is a former Ms. Minnesota, a title she won by placing first in a bikini contest at the Hog’s Breath Saloon in Minneapolis. But Shannon, the daughter of a respected Coralville realtor, has a dark side. She runs what may be a Florida-based fraud scheme, including an escort service, according to an investigation by TheIowaRepublican.com.

Shannon is also alleged to have committed multiple campaign finance law violations during her Iowa Senate campaign, including accepting an illegal corporate contribution from one of her companies and refusing to file regular reports with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, according to an analysis of state disclosure filings.

This story is not an April Fools’ Day joke. But the absurd saga is almost too bizarre to believe. Welcome to the never-ending political culture of Iowa, the First in the Nation caucus state. Activists of all political persuasions take pride in personally vetting presidential wannabes for the real United States of ‘merica. From the earliest stages of her campaign, Shannon triggered Iowans’ hogshit detectors.

Iowa GOP seeks single, white, female politician

In the early part of the 2012 cycle, then-Republican state Sen. leader Jerry Behn sought a candidate to run against state Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Robins, fresh off a special election victory. Mathis defeated Republican entrepreneur Cindy Golding, who now chairs the Linn County Republican Party. Behn ran into a brick wall of prominent Republicans balking on challenging Mathis, a popular former television anchor.

Republicans approached activist Mary Rathje and former U.S. Attorney Matt Dummermuth, who both challenged Golding for the nomination in old Senate District 18. Both demurred. GOP leaders also approached Paul Pate, a former Cedar Rapids Mayor and Secretary of State. Pate commissioned a public opinion poll before passing on the race. Just as Republicans were close to giving up, Shannon emailed to detail her interest in running for office.

On the surface, she appeared to be an ideal recruit: an attractive, single mom—with a son in the military—who owned a Cedar Rapids business. “That doesn’t sound too bad on paper,” one operative familiar with Shannon’s overture said.

RPI SCC member David Chung, who lives in the Cedar Rapids area, said that he only remembers a brief handshake with Shannon after a stump speech. Other Linn County Republicans don’t recall Shannon attending their events or precinct caucuses, but she won their support for the state senate nomination.

“She seemed to get more eccentric as time went on,” said Bill Dahlston, a member of the Linn County GOP central committee who met Shannon at a Linn County Tea Party event in early 2012. “Everybody knew that whoever ran wouldn’t have a chance against Liz Mathis. We knew that [Shannon] was willing to run, and then it just kept getting weirder and weirder.”

“Thankfully, she just took off and joined the Republic [of the united States],” he said. “She was hanging around with the, shall we say, fringe of the Ron Paul group. She eventually got so far off the deep end that most of them didn’t even buy into it.”

It’s not surprising that Linn County activists were unfamiliar with Shannon.

Shannon, then a resident of North Liberty’s second precinct in Johnson County, voted for Ron Paul at the party’s Jan. 2, 2012 precinct caucus, according to several Johnson County Republicans who attended. The party then accepted her as a member of their county central committee. She had a prominent political pedigree. Shannon’s father, Carl Williams, a respected Coralville realtor, was elected to the party’s central committee in 2008.

During the 2012 election cycle, the Johnson County GOP learned that Shannon had decamped for Linn County.

“At that point, I lost interest in Randi Shannon,” said Bill Keetel, a past Johnson County GOP chairman. “I thought, ‘This woman is just [expletive] nuts. She’s Linn County’s problem now.’”

Shannon announced her candidacy last February in Cedar Rapids.

“Earlier this month I officially announced my bid for the Iowa Senate in District 34,” Shannon wrote in a March 26 email that TheIowaRepublican.com obtained. “Iowa is famous for our solid communities, and we need to go back to the basics for them to continue, and more importantly, for them to thrive. The future of our state is strong, and filled with smart and courageous people; our great state needs them to stay in Iowa.”

Shannon sought $100,000 for her campaign, claiming that she personally “invested over $1,000.” But a week before the March filing deadline, Shannon arrived in Des Moines with less than the hundred signatures required for her nomination papers. Party staffers, sensing the first red flag, sent her back to Cedar Rapids. She returned a few days later to file her paperwork with the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.

Republicans periodically pressed Shannon for more information about her businesses. “She’d just say, ‘I’m a small business owner. I own several companies,’” according to source familiar with the discussions.

Shannon joins rebel alliance following secret Georgia conference of sovereign leaders

In late June, Shannon attended a secret Georgia convention of the Republic of the united States (RuSA), according to a person familiar with her travel.

“Something inside of her was unleashed after going to the convention,” the source said. “Something switched. She came back to Iowa completely, 180 degrees crazy.”

Shannon embarrassed Iowa Republicans when she announced last July 4 in a four-page letter that she would drop her candidacy against Mathis to accept an appointment as a U.S. Senator in the shadow Republic, a fringe group which opposes paying taxes or otherwise recognizing the illegitimate “United States Federal Corporation.” She sent her official resignation letter July 9 to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.

“Let me now announce to everyone in Iowa, I have become aware of the existence of the Original Republic for The United States of America,” Shannon wrote in her July 4 open resignation letter. In 1871, Shannon said that the Republic was replaced by “replaced in 1871 by the UNITED STATES CORPORATION. (de facto-without law). This Unlawful Corporate Democracy, established by the forty-first congress, has been acting as though it is the ‘official government’ which clearly it is not! In point of fact, it is the reason why ‘We the People’ Instead of Experiencing Freedom and Prosperity, suffer under the weight of Oppressive Statutes and an Out of Control, Monstrous National Debt which is Robbing Us and All Future Generations of Americans of Our Treasure and Our Legacy for which Our Founding Fathers’ so Valiantly Fought and Died.”

RuSA, the largest and most active group of so-called sovereigns, has attracted a crazy coalition of criminals and hucksters since its formation by about 50 activists in 2010, according to a 2012 report by the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). RuSA claims to have organized governments-in-waiting in 38 states as well as membership in nearly every other state. SPLC has reported that RuSA is under federal investigation by various law enforcement agencies and the Internal Revenue Service.

Last month, a Montgomery, Ala. federal jury convicted James Timothy Turner, RuSA’s president, on 10 tax fraud charges after deliberating for about an hour. Turner, 57, a charismatic figure in the sovereign citizens movement, hosted seminars from 2007 to 2009 teaching people how to tap into secret government funds to pay their taxes. He was convicted of conspiracy to defraud the federal government, six counts of fraud using financial instruments, obstructing the IRS and failing to file a 2009 tax return.

Turner used “a fictitious financial instrument, purportedly valued at $300 million, to pay his own taxes and of assisting others who wanted to get out of paying their taxes with similar ‘bonds’ that he claimed would draw on government accounts,” according to a post by SPLC reporter Ryan Lenz, a native of Le Mars, Iowa. RuSA supporters argue that Turner is a political prisoner.

“This is not about his bonds being lawful,” said RuSA South Carolina senator Vivian Gwin, who observed the trial. “This is about him being the president of the Republic.”

Turner is hardly the fist RuSA member to run afoul of the feds.

Monty Ervin, RuSA’s Alabama governor, was convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States and three counts of tax evasion last year (he didn’t pay taxes on $9 million in income). Other RuSA members who have tangled with law enforcement include an Alabama woman who forged a check from the Federal Reserve, an Alabama man on trial for “paper terrorism”—filing bogus property liens and such to intimidate his opponents, an RuSA Arizona ambassador shot and killed for trying to take a Taser from a police officer responding to a domestic violence complaint, a Connecticut senator convicted of rape, and a former West Virginia congressman who allegedly murdered his 9-year-old son before committing suicide.

The recent law enforcement scrutiny has sent RuSA members scattering, creating a leadership vacuum.

“It’s unclear that RuSA is going to survive at all,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at SPLC, a liberal research and advocacy group that monitors RuSA. “The organization is in serious trouble. There’s a leadership struggle going on right now. It’s very possible that it could collapse.”

A request for comment to an email address listed for media inquiries to the Republic was returned as undeliverable. Shannon also declined to respond to questions about her role in the Republic and other matters.

“She’s a foolish woman hooked up with criminals,” said Potok, who also edits SPLC’s quarterly journal, the Intelligence Report, and its Hatewatch blog. “It’s obvious that the federal government is cracking down on this group, many of whom are engaged in criminal activity.”

Shannon remains unswayed.

“If [RuSA] can implement all the freedoms that are discussed, people won’t even recognize their lives. Imagine a nation where we have free energy! Imagine a nation where natural remedies aren’t outlawed and the cures for cancer can be spoken about freely without being arrested!” Shannon said in a recent interview with SPLC. “Imagine water without commercial grade unregulated fluoride being dumped into it, and food that isn’t altered in a chemical lab that is doing God knows what to our bodies.”

Madam Shannon, Inc.

Shannon may have linked up with RuSA because of its network of anti-government activists, many of which operate questionable business empires. Shannon says she earned her fortune by selling merchandise on eBay and Craigslist.

“Back when eBay was first getting big, I found myself buying and selling products online,” she wrote on her website, RS Custom Web Designs. “I was buying/selling products locally on Ebay and Craigslist… I remember emails and websites telling me how rich I could get overnight. For several years straight, I was really obsessed with the exciting new world of making money online. I made money, and lots of it.”

RS Custom Web Designs’ client list includes virtually all of Shannon’s other ventures.

“I’m not here to teach you to take over the world, just grab a piece of it,” Shannon wrote on her personal website. “I’m making myself available to hold your hand and walk you through it step by step via professional coaching and mentoring. My program focuses specifically on you, your product, your experience, your vision, and really, your mission. Together we will focus and walk through turning that amazing product or awesome idea into a more profitable, fun, and fulfilling business and life for you?”

On her LinkedIn profile, Shannon lists her education as the “School of Hard Knocks,” where she’s working on her PhD in Entrepreneurial and Small Business operations (1994 to 2019 expected).

Perhaps Shannon’s most intriguing enterprise is Bella Vida Concierge, which bills itself as the “premier global concierge service.”

The company, which lists its address as a Miami P.O. Box, appears to be either an elaborate pyramid scheme or a front for an escort service. Under the “pampering” section of the company’s website, it highlights “PLACES TO GET NAKED” and offers massage services.

“[O]ur team also sources yachts, helicopters, local healers, chefs, and masseuses to tend to your every whim,” according to a statement by Shannon.

Bella Vida pitches various service tiers. Clients can select a custom level of TLC, ranging from the gold package (virtual assistant) for a $499 initial payment and $199 per month, to the top-end black package, which boasts 33 perks. It will only set you back a cool $19,997 initial payment (and $599 per month).

“With Bella Vida Concierge-as long as it’s legal, ethical, and well-intentioned, it’s a covered service,” according to the company’s website. Sexy wink.

A source recently called the Miami-area cell phone listed on the company’s website using a blocked cell phone. Shannon answered and feigned a bad connection, asking for the source’s phone number to return the call. He declined and hung up. Less than a minute later, she used cellphone unscrambling technology—a favorite tool of those running illicit enterprises—to call him back. The prospective client need only tell Shannon his credit card number to set up the service, she said, asking who referred him.

The full extent of Shannon’s Florida-based business empire remains a mystery, but several strands of evidence strongly suggest the enterprise may be structured to avoid IRS and law enforcement scrutiny.

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Randi, left, and Jason Shannon. Source: http://www.castlerockbullmastiffs.com

Shannon’s businesses are deeply entwined with her ex-husband, who has a checkered criminal past. Jason Shannon, 39, who was charged with solicitation of a prostitute last June in Cedar Rapids and battery in 2009 in Florida. Shannon was also charged with first-degree theft, a felony, in 2005 and eluding a police officer in 2004, according to Iowa court records. He received probation and $1,500 in fines.

The Shannons were married in the summer of 1994 in Las Vegas, Nev., according to public records. Since then, they have launched a complex array of moneymaking schemes.

The umbrella of the Shannons’ network is a company called Blue Sky Ventures International (BVSI), LLC, a Nevada limited-liability company that Shannon created with her ex-husband Jason in 2009 using a Delaware-based corporate agent. Nevada revoked the company’s legal status in 2012 after the Shannons missed a required filing.

Shannon calls BSVI the “world’s premier membership club,” where the chosen enjoy exclusive access at more than 60,000 destinations for a one-time fee. The company claims to be founded by a group of “Entrepreneurs—industry pioneers and masters of savvy, sophistication and discretion.” Critics have complained that the company is a pyramid scheme. Via Blue Sky, the Shannons operate several sub-schemes, including Blue Sky Auto Glass, Blue Sky Long Distance (which sells prepaid international telephone connections), and Blue Sky Rx (which sells prescription medication).

The Shannons also own a pair of auto glass companies. Florida Auto Glass, Inc., based in Boca Raton, Fla., was registered with the Florida Secretary of State’s office last July via Legal Zoom. Iowa Auto Glass, Inc. was registered with the Iowa Secretary of State’s office Sept. 27, 2010. Both companies remain active.

JayRan Enterprises, LLC, another Nevada-based company run by the Shannons, formed in 2004 and had its status revoked in 2010 by the Nevada Secretary of State. At one point, JayRan applied for a U.S. federal trademark for its “Virtual Dream Body” service. The company offered “virtual body enhancement/imaging for the everyday user and plastic surgeons.” The Shannons later abandoned the application.

The Shannons also operate USMilitaryClassifieds.com, which implies U.S. military endorsement with the logos of many service branches on the site’s banner. Other projects include Lesson Café, “Where Teachers & Students Unite,” and Castle Rock Bull Mastiffs, where the Shannons sell dogs online.

“We know you’ll consider us your #1 source for some of the best puppies and stud service in the USA, Canada and beyond. Our dogs speak for themselves!” according to the website. “Castlerock’s King Maximus is available for Stud Service, to the right ladies, of course.”

Beyond Shannon’s business ventures, she also operates an environmental organization, the Food for Life Planting Foundation, a Nevada nonprofit corporation. But the entity does not appear to be a bona fide charity. No record of its existence could be found via the Internal Revenue Service’s database for tax-exempt organizations or the GuideStar registry.

FFLPF is a “unique nonprofit charity dedicated to planting edible, fruitful trees and plants to benefit needy populations and improve the surrounding air, soil, and water,” according to its website. The organization has an ambitious goal of planting 1 million plants and solicits $489 donations to save honey bee populations. It also includes a boastful description of Shannon’s credentials.

“Randi Shannon has devoted over 20 years to the study of nutrition, longevity and stress-related health issues,” according to FFLPF. “She is considered one of the most recognized authorities on natural health, anti-aging, beauty nutrition, herbalism, and organic superfoods. She has studied cultures and what happens when their society doesn’t make it a priority to plant foods the people can survive from.”

At NewAgeofBeauty.com, another affiliated website, Shannon sells her wellness book—along with a copy of “Secrets to Red Hot Sex Naturally”—for $77 (typically a $756 value!) and claims an impressive following (bask in the apostrophe-overuse glory).

“You’d think she was a celebrity with the fan base of hers—The World’s TOP CEO’s, Celebrities, busy professionals, and even the most influential in the nation—Mom’s!” according to Shannon’s profile on the website. Shannon’s program is also described as the “#1 Rated Anti-Aging Program on The Internet” and features an endorsement by a holistic healer.

“I get accused of being my son’s girlfriend,” Shannon raves. “My system works!”

When she’s not running her far-flung network of companies, Shannon advocates on behalf of the sovereign movement via the Republican and another organization she founded, 42Action.org, which is designed to educate Americans on their constitutional rights so they can defend themselves—and sue their opponents, including the government. The information Shannon provides—on topics ranging from filing for divorce to dealing with the IRS to fighting foreclosure—seems dubious at best. The group’s main focus is providing information to anti-government activists facing the long arm of the law.

“At 42ACTION.ORG, experienced pro se litigants share with you their techniques and strategies in order for you to become a successful pro se litigant in your own right,” according to an email sent to a new member. “As a result, you will become more secure in the law and your rights.”

The site also serves as a portal for Shannon’s abnormal advocacy interests. She provides information from web sources on her various pet theories, ranging from the supposed government conspiracy to spray blood-based biological agents at high altitudes for secret purposes to the nefarious American plot to contaminate the water supply with fluoride.

One flew over the wacko bird’s nest

TheIowaRepublican.com’s recap of Shannon’s multi-faceted fiefdom—gleaned from public records and publicly available documents—illustrates how little vetting statehouse candidates usually receive in a district dominated by a popular incumbent. No matter how low-priority a candidate’s race may be to a state party’s coordinated campaign, an errant candidate can offer an irresistible target to political opponents and journalists as representative of the party—in this case the Republican Party of Iowa (RPI). Shannon’s case illustrates that dynamic to epic proportions.

This absurd tale is a microcosm of the embarrassment of riches the Paul wing can bring to the circus-scale big tent of the state party. The self-described liberty movement controls the GOP’s state central committee, which reelected A.J. Spiker as RPI chairman earlier this year and installed allies in every party executive position. Shannon, who Republican activists first met when she caucused for Paul in 2012, quickly ingratiated herself with liberty activists (although they later disavowed her).

During her ill-fated 2012 state senate campaign, Shannon won the endorsement of Liberty Iowa PAC, a political organization that supports state and local candidates who stand for constitutionally limited government and free enterprise. The group’s legislative chairman is Jeff Shipley, a Fairfield activist and member of RPI’s state central committee. RPI SCC member Joel Kurtinitis is the spokesperson for the PAC.

Liberty Iowa PAC distributed op-eds written by Shannon via social media and otherwise promoted her campaign. The PAC wasn’t the only organization duped by Shannon. Various media outlets described Shannon as a home schooling mom, entrepreneur and a supporter of Ron Paul’s presidential campaign, but much about the 45-year-old remains shrouded in secrecy. Even when Shannon earned her 15 minutes of freak fame for her Independence Day resignation announcement, no news organization checked her credentials.

After her emergence in the Republic, Shannon endorsed increasingly bizarre views.

“911 WAS an inside job!!!” Shannon posted on social media in late Oct. 2012, and she also promoted the discredited theory that President Obama wasn’t born in America, according to her Facebook posts.

Where in the world is Randi Shannon?

Cracks in Shannon’s public façade emerged early in her campaign.

A huge stumbling block to Shannon’s campaign emerged when party officials realized that she did not live in Linn County—and didn’t seem to have any intent to move into the area by Election Day. Liberal blogger John Deeth reported on the rumor that Shannon lived in Johnson County, outside of District 34. No other news organization reported the tip.

Moreover, it’s not even clear that Shannon resided in Coralville, which is outside the senate district that Shannon sought. She was registered to vote at an address in North Liberty, but she also maintains a residence in Florida and operates various corporate entities and properties at numerous addresses around the country. Shannon, though, listed her home address as the location of one of her companies, Iowa Auto Glass in Cedar Rapids, on her campaign disclosure filings.

On Shannon’s affidavit of candidacy, which candidates must file with the Secretary of State’s office under Iowa law, Shannon listed her parents’ home, 2400 1st Ave. in Coralville, which is not in District 34. She listed 3733 1st Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids as her mailing address. That address is actually the location of Iowa Auto Glass, Inc., which Shannon co-owns along with her ex-husband Jason Shannon. Under Iowa law, a candidate must live in their state Senate district for 60 days before the general election, meaning Shannon would have had to move by early August.

It’s not clear how much time the Shannons actually spend in Iowa. They don’t own their main Florida residence and their vacation property on the Florida Panhandle was foreclosed on after the Shannon’s dropped behind on payments on the $500,000+ property. Randi Shannon is also trying to unload a rural property in Williamsburg, Iowa for more than $1 million.

Shannon first voted in Iowa in 1996 and cast a ballot in every general election from then to 2008, when she switched her voter registration from Republican to no party. She switched back at the end of 2011, right before she ran for Iowa Senate. Her status was placed on inactive in January after the Iowa Secretary of State’s office received returned mail following routine notices. Shannon registered to vote in Florida in Aug. 2010, but her record shows that she never case a Sunshine State ballot, according to her voting history, which TheIowaRepublican.com obtained from the Florida Secretary of State’s office.

Iowa Campaign Ethics & Disclosure Board has struggled to contact Shannon about campaign finance irregularities

Shannon appears to have violated Iowa campaign finance law, according to an analysis of her sole campaign finance filing by TheIowaRepublican.com. She filed her initial campaign finance report last May, two days late. However, she either refused or forgot to file her July and October reports, which are required by law even though she dropped out of the race. She also accepted more than $800 from Iowa Auto Glass, Inc., even though such contributions from incorporated entities are illegal.

The loan represents nearly 40 percent of the total funds raised for Shannon’s campaign as of her May filing.

Candidates who lose or drop out typically don’t cooperate with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. At the boards next meeting the agency will likely consider shutting down Shannon’s campaign, fining her civil penalties for the infractions, or recommending her case for prosecution to the Linn County Attorney’s office. Shannon has not responded to correspondence from the board asking her to file campaign finance reports.

Board officials had not caught the alleged violation until TheIowaRepublican.com asked whether such a transaction was legal last week. Reports must be audited every three years, but the backlog often delays audits by about a year.

County attorneys typically avoid prosecuting campaign finance violations because they must prove that candidates knowingly violated the law, a difficult standard. However, in Shannon’s case, a continuing refusal to respond to the board could prove a knowing violation of the law. Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden, who has a reputation for declining to prospective election and campaign finance law violations, did not reply to a request for comment from TheIowaRepublican.com

Shannon’s voting history and alleged campaign finance irregularities may be a moot point, if the Republic of the united States gets their way. The Republic doesn’t recognize actions by the U.S. government after 1871, when an illegitimate corporate cabal supposedly usurped power. Women didn’t gain the right to vote until 1920.

Whatever happens to the fate of the Republic, trust that Shannon will remain front-and-center.

ABOUT THIS STORY

This April Fools’ Day story might strike some as strange. Why does it matter? Why devote 4,000 words to a narrative chronicling the ins-and-outs of a failed candidate for Iowa Senate who seized her 15 minutes of freak fame in 2012?

First, it’s a fascinating saga that highlights good, the bad and the ugly of grassroots Iowa politics. Second, TheIowaRepublican.com takes seriously our charge, as journalists in the First in the Nation caucus state, to hold politicians accountable and cover the proceedings of our government—even our fake Republic.

TheIowaRepublican.com conducted in-person interviews with key activists in Eastern Iowa, scoured public records in more than three states, obtained emails and background from Republican operatives involved in the race, consulted experts on the sovereign movement, and analyzed statements in social and traditional media to chronicle the rise of Randi Shannon, the U.S. Senator for the Republic of the united States.


About the Author

Jeff Patch
Jeff Patch is a correspondent for TheIowaRepublican.com. He's a communications, research and political consultant for Iowa candidates, causes and companies. E-mail questions, comments, insults or story ideas to jeff [at] theiowarepublican.com.




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