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Published: 1/9/2013

Man pleads not guilty to threatening U.S. judge

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FINDLAY - Roger Tanner promised he would never pay a dime to the Findlay man whose vintage race car he chopped into hundreds of pieces.

Two years later, Tanner is charged with threatening the life of the bankruptcy judge who dismissed his claims of personal financial ruin - a case some say he filed to avoid making restitution for the race car that he had been hired to restore.

Tanner, 57, of Arcadia, Ohio, has pleaded not guilty to making threats to U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Richard L. Speer and to his former attorney, Samuel B. Morrison of Toledo.

He was arrested at a Findlay mobile home park Dec. 29 - three days after he made the alleged threats.

In an FBI affidavit filed in U.S. District Court, Special Agent Robert McCorkle said Tanner made threats on the judge's life to Mr. Morrison's secretary, who took two phone calls from Tanner on Dec. 26.

“She recorded Tanner's comments as, `I know that I am going to die and maybe someone needs to go with me. I know where the judge lives and a lot of other people and maybe they need to pay for what they have done to my family,'” the affidavit stated.

Agent McCorkle also listened to a voice mail message Tanner allegedly left for Mr. Morrison the same day in which Tanner said Mr. Morrison could take his phone call as a threat that he was coming after him. He said he wanted justice and Mr. Morrison was “on the hook,” the affidavit stated. According to the document, Judge Speer had dismissed Tanner's bankruptcy case Nov. 15 because Tanner had failed to comply with the court's instructions.

Tanner initially filed for bankruptcy in January, 2000 - shortly before his property was to be sold at a Hancock County sheriff's auction. In the case, he listed assets of $61,000 and liabilities of $43,000. Under unsecured debts, he said his largest debt was pending child support for his 5-year-old son from a pending divorce.

Sheriff Mike Heldman said the bankruptcy filing caused the sale of Tanner's personal property to be canceled for the second time, and it has not been rescheduled.

The sheriff's sale was ordered in 1999 after Tanner mocked a judge's order to turn over a vintage race car he was hired to restore to its owner, Terry Freed of Findlay. When Mr. Freed went to pick up the car with a sheriff's deputy at his side, the two found the parts of the car piled up outside Tanner's shop. The body had been sledge hammered, the frame cut apart with a torch, and the tires slashed.

Tanner said at the time that the court order listed each part separately, so that's how he turned them over to Mr. Freed. A visiting judge subsequently sentenced Tanner to 30 days in jail for contempt of court and ordered him to pay Mr. Freed $26,956 to compensate for the demolished car.

Tanner fled to Texas for a time but was later arrested in Bowling Green. Sheriff Heldman said Tanner served his 30 days in jail but has managed to avoid a sheriff's sale of his property that could result in some repayment to Mr. Freed.

Mr. Freed said his own attorney fees from the legal battle are now up to about $15,000. He described Tanner as “downright stupid” and said, in his mind, Tanner needs about 25 years of rehabilitation in prison.

“After I got the judgment against him, I told him, `You can't go around cutting people's property up. Why didn't you just give it back to me?'” Mr. Freed said. “He just didn't do the work and he got mad. He said he was going to sell [the car] and keep the money, and that's when I took him to court.”

Mr. Freed said he knew when he hired Tanner that he had been in jail previously, but said he was trying to help him out by giving him the work.

Sheriff Heldman said he has had run-ins with Tanner since the early 1970s, when the sheriff's office was called frequently to his Arcadia home on domestic complaints.

“You can't reason with him. The system is always against him,” the sheriff said.

Ten years ago, Tanner was convicted on federal weapons charges after investigators found a rifle that Tanner had converted to an automatic weapon, Sheriff Heldman said.

In the FBI affidavit, Agent McCorkle said deputies in Hancock County described Tanner as paranoid and a one-time bounty hunter. One sergeant said Tanner was “very intelligent and accomplished with tools and machinery,” according to the affidavit.

David Bauer, assistant U.S. attorney, said he has recommended that Tanner be evaluated by the Court Diagnostic and Treatment Center “to determine his dangerousness.” He said it could take several weeks before a report is received from the center.

Meanwhile, Tanner is in the Lucas County jail.

His court-appointed attorney, Spiros Cocoves, would not allow Tanner to speak to a reporter yesterday, but said Tanner had pleaded not guilty.

“We expect the facts as they come out at trial to support that plea,” Mr. Cocoves said without elaborating. “We expect him to be fully vindicated when we go to trial.”



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