Title Jumping, Tax Evasion Case Reaches Conclusion With Guilty Verdict

Title Jumping, Tax Evasion Case Reaches Conclusion With Guilty Verdict
Derrick Gonzalez takes the stand on day one of the two day trial. (KCNI/KBBN)

The trial against Derrick Gonzalez, 37, began Tuesday morning with jury selection. Gonzalez is being charged with alleged Violation of Nebraska Certificate Title Act and Willful Evasion of Sales Tax, both Class IV felonies.

Jury selection began the trial where 12 jurors (8 men, 4 women) were selected.

The prosecution, represented by special prosecutor Marty Klein, began opening arguments by stating this case would be very simple. He noted this case was as simple as Gonzalez purchasing a motorcycle, failing to pay the sales tax on the vehicle, and selling the vehicle. He noted this case could become complicated with verbal jargon from Gonzalez, but to listen to the witnesses and the facts of the case.

During Gonzalez’s opening statement, he argued the government is a corporation and does not have the right to force someone into entering a contract. He also claimed there must be an individual to make a claim against.

The first witness that testified during the trail was Tristina (Tess) Gilligan who works for the Custer County Treasurers Office. During her testimony, she testified that the buyer of a vehicle is obligated to pay a 5.5% sales tax. She also testified that it is required both the seller and buyer to sign the title when it is transferred.

She said that when Dustin Kettlebourough, who purchased a Yamaha motorcycle from Gonzalez, arrived at the office there was information missing in relation to the bills of sale. Gilligan testified that when the paperwork was presented to her, Lo’Akeem Jackson was the name on the title as the seller and Kettlebourough was the name on the purchaser, but on the bills of sale, Jackson noted he agreed to sell to Gonzalez. According to Gillian, Gonzalez should have filled out the spot of the buyer and paid the taxes.

During cross-examination, Gonzalez inquired as to the training of the job and also the necessity of the bill of sale. He also questioned if she knew his intention with the motorcycle if she was not physically present during the transaction. He also called into question the vehicle title that was submitted as evidence. He asked if a copy was made of a document, such as a vehicle title, if that would be a forgery, to which she agreed.

Custer County Treasurer Sheri Bryant also took the stand and testified on her account of the day when Gonzalez and Kettlebourough were at the Custer County Courthouse and also the procedure of paying the sales tax on a vehicle. According to Bryant, when an individual purchases a vehicle the seller puts their name on the seller spot of the title and the buyer puts their name on the buyer spot of the title. She then says a bill of sale is presented to the office and the vehicle is assessed and taxes are applied.

On October 30, 2020 Bryant was in her office when she heard raised voices coming from the front part of the Treasurer’s office and asked to assist in helping with Gonzalez and Kettlebourough. According to Bryant, Gonzalez began talking about denying certain rights as she began to view the bills of sale and noted that there were errors with the second bill of sale.

During cross-examination, Gonzalez inquired about formal training which Bryant answered is not required to file for the position, but extensive training does take place once on the job. Gonzalez also asked Bryant if she was able to give him an order by law in regards to the title and taxes which she did not order, but referenced that through state statute he is required to pay the taxes on the vehicle.

During redirect, special prosecutor Klein simply asked Bryant if Gonzalez had paid the taxes on the vehicle, which she stated he had not.

Lo’Akeem Jackson, who sold the motorcycle to Gonzalez, testified that he received $1,500 from Gonzalez for the motorcycle. He said he signed the title on the seller line, but never saw Gonzalez sign the buyer portion of the title.

Dustin Kettlebourough, who purchased the motorcycle from Gonzalez, paid $800 for the vehicle, filled out his name on the buyer part of the title which had Jackson’s name on the seller portion. During cross-examination, Gonzalez asked Kettlebourough if he had caused him harm by not being able to title the bike, which he responded he did not, because Gonzalez purchased the bike back for the $800 previously agreed upon.

Investigator Marcus Siebken, who is with the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles Fraud Unit, received an email being assigned to the case. He testified that through his investigation he had contacted a number of individuals about the sale of a Yamaha motorcycle that had been purchased by Gonzalez, but he had failed to pay the sales tax with the purchase. He then sold the motorcycle which, according to Inv. Siebken, is common practice for those trying to avoid the taxes so they can make money off the sale without paying taxes.

During cross, Gonzalez asked Inv. Siebken if he had proof of him living in Ansley or if he had assumed he lived there. According to his testimony, Inv. Siebken was given an address to send any documents to Gonzalez which, according to Gonzalez, is a post office. He also asked if Inv. Siebken knew that he had resided at the home where the motorcycle was or if he was only temporarily living there. The investigator responded that he assumed he had lived there after he was able to combine the information gathered during the investigation.

Gonzalez also took the stand and testified by reading numerous documents that contained case law from other states including Nebraska and also cited numerous Uniform Commercial Codes. During his testimony Gonzalez stated that he believes, according to the UCC code and other referenced material, if an induvial is using a vehicle for leisure and not for commercial use (using the vehicle to conduct business) then they do not have to register it with the state.

He also testified that he purchased the motorcycle, but decided that he did not need it anymore and conducted a private sale which would allow him to trade the motorcycle for valued goods, in this case money, and would not have to pay taxes.

During cross, by special prosecutor Klein, he asked him if he followed the government, to which Gonzalez replied “I am the government. I am enforcer of the law.” He was also asked if he believed in the law, to which he replied that there is a time when statutes and natural law are in harmony. Throughout the questioning, Gonzalez failed to answer the questions of the prosecutor and was warned multiple times to only answer the question and, as stated by Judge Mark Kozisek, “stop running your mouth.”

While on the stand, Gonzalez testified that he bought the motorcycle, did not title it because it was not being used in commerce, and sold it to Kettlebourough. When asked a yes or no question about if he ever paid the taxes on the motorcycle, Gonzalez refused to answer with a simple response.

Ansley Village Clerk/Treasurer Lanette Doane also briefly took the stand and testified that the utility bills at the residence under question were paid by Gonzalez. According to Doane, the name on the bill was “Derrick Shawton Gonzalez with care of Doug Stunkel.” She also stated there were multiple times he would reference ‘his home’ or ‘I need to pay my bill.’ During cross, Gonzalez continued to ask if paying the bill showed proof that someone resided in Ansley. She agreed that any individual could pay for another person’s utility and that would not constitute residency.

During closing arguments, special prosecutor Klein stated this is a simple case that does not involve codes, it involves Nebraska state statute. Klein argued that it is a fact the purchaser of a vehicle must pay sales tax within 30 days of the purchase date. He stated Gonzalez failed to pay the taxes and also violated the title act by not properly filling out the correct portions. He also said the jury has an important job of looking back at the evidence and also the witnesses and weighing their credibility. Klein said no one on the stand has a vested interest in this case except Gonzalez. Klein asked the jury to find Gonzalez guilty of both charges.

During Gonzalez’s argument, he stated the evidence entered are copies and are thus forgeries and should not be considered. He also noted that the two bills regarding the payment of utilities only prove he is a generous person and does not mean he resided in Ansley. He argued that the State has failed to establish his residence which is what the case is centered around. He concluded by saying that he has the right to face his accuser, which cannot happen because “no man or woman has been harmed by his actions.” He asked the jury to find him not guilty.

The jury began deliberations at 12:06 PM on the second day of the trial on Wednesday, November 24. The verdict was read at 1:38 PM.

The jury reached a unanimous decision and found Derrick Gonzalez guilty of Violation of Nebraska Certificate Title Act and Willful Evasion of Sales Tax, both Class IV felonies. He will now be sentenced on the charges on January 19, 2022, at 9 AM. A pre-sentence investigation was also ordered by Judge Kozisek to be completed by sentencing.

Gonzalez could be sentenced up to two years in prison and be fined up to $10,000 for each charge.

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