An Issaquah woman caught up in her longtime friend’s fraud schemes said she is motivated to push on with his efforts to produce clean fuel because she wants “to make the planet a better place.”
Judith Calhoun initially asked a federal judge this week to allow her to keep in contact with con man Michael Peter Spitzauer because she is desperate to save the enterprise.
But then the 74-year-old said she has been working with other people, including a fabricator in Canada, who should be able to help her get the biofuel technology working.
“If I am totally separated from Michael and you don’t allow me to ask him questions, I will get my answers anyway because I have engineers. And maybe that is even better,” Calhoun told Judge Sal Mendoza Jr.
Spitzauer, 50, went to federal prison after he scammed investors in his Green Power company, which claimed to be building a waste-to-fuel plant at the Port of Pasco.
Now, Spitzauer is behind bars for using the birth certificate of a dead baby to apply for a U.S. passport after his release on the earlier case.
He pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in September to making a false statement and aggravated identity theft, but has filed a motion to withdraw the plea. A hearing is scheduled for January.
Calhoun was sentenced Thursday in Richland’s Federal Building to one month in jail, followed by one year of supervised release.
She pleaded guilty in September to one misdemeanor charge of possessing an identification document to defraud the United States — the baby’s birth certificate used by Spitzauer.
Her attorney, Ulvar Klein of Yakima, tried to keep his client out of custody by saying he’s skeptical about her connections with Spitzauer. He suggested community service or electronic home monitoring.
“Judith is a victim. She’s been a victim. She’ll continue to be a victim to some level because she’s an extremely vulnerable person to people’s claims and opportunities,” Klein said.
Once Calhoun learned she was going to be locked up, she reiterated to Judge Mendoza that jail is not appropriate for her and she doesn’t know anyone who has come out better for having been there.
She then asked to report at a later date to the Federal Bureau of Prisons so she can get things organized for her husband.
“My husband has asked me several times to get help, which I haven’t done. I need to speak with a psychologist,” she said. “If I was sent into mental health court, I might be able to get some counseling, which would correct my behavior. But there is nothing in jail that could help that.”
The judge said the federal system does not have a mental health court. He also questioned if Calhoun will voluntarily surrender once given a report date.
“Ms. Calhoun, I don’t know what you need, honestly. I wish I did because I would like to help you,” he said. “But that is something you could work with your supervising (probation) officer on throughout the year, what kind of help is available.”
Spitzauer was sentenced in 2015 to four years in federal prison for swindling U.S. and international investors, failing to file a tax return one year and filing a false tax return another year. The CEO of Green Power was ordered to repay his victims nearly $13 million.
At one time, Spitzauer also announced plan to build an $82 million plant in Fife inside the Puyallup tribal reservation to convert waste to diesel. That project was never built.
He was released from prison in June 2017, and less than two months later applied for a passport using fake information.
A native of Austria, Spitzauer claimed on his application that he was born Michael S. McCune in El Paso, Texas. He also listed his birth date in 1967, a year before he really was born.
Spitzauer said he had been contacted in prison by a man named James L. McCune, who believed Spitzauer was his long-lost Texas son.
Spitzauer previously told Judge Mendoza he didn’t know whether he was born in the United States or Austria, but that he was raised in Austria and came to this country in the 1990s.
He has a 1989 conviction for fraud and forgery and a 1992 conviction for fraud, both cases in Austria, and a false statement conviction in 1997 in the United States.
Spitzauer faces deportation from the United States after his recent guilty plea.
Court documents show that Calhoun helped get the Texas certificate of the baby who died within 24 hours of birth. She had the birth certificate sent to her home.
Calhoun said James McCune came up with a false story for the passport application to explain the discrepancies between the El Paso birth certificate and Spitzauer’s actual biographical data and familiar history, documents said.
Calhoun also reportedly bought a DNA test from a drugstore, got DNA samples from Spitzauer and his son, and submitted it under the McCune names to try to show a genetic link.
Spitzauer “sent his DNA out from the jail using ‘balloon things,’ which were later described as rubber gloves,” according to court documents.
Calhoun admitted to investigators that it was her idea to falsify the DNA, but couldn’t answer why she helped if she really believed McCune was Spitzauer’s father.
Calhoun said she has “a personal family relationship” with Spitzauer and that the two met more than 35 years ago when he was living in Europe and they “were doing some commodities trading.”
She described Spitzauer’s children as her grandkids, and said she has been helping Spitzauer’s wife as she first battled throat cancer and now lung cancer.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Meghan McCalla had recommended three months in jail.
“A lot of it has to do with (Calhoun) not wanting to change her behavior, and not seeming to recognize that it needs to change in terms of ... she has this unwavering dedication to co-defendant Spitzauer and that dedication continues to involve her being involved in his criminal exploits,” she said.
Judge Mendoza asked McCalla if she thinks some jail time will change that.
“I think it will because I think, at this point, there has been no incentive, no reason for her to change that behavior,” said McCalla.
She added that Calhoun might have been a victim of Spitzauer decades ago, but she continues to be loyal to and associate with him knowing that Spitzauer engages in these behaviors. Calhoun’s dedication to Spitzauer has been very detrimental to her, both financially and emotionally, she said.
“I think she follows her own moral compass, which does not comport with society’s moral compass,” McCalla said. “I wouldn’t say that she goes so far in terms of seeking out criminal behavior, but I do think that she acts in a way that encompasses a disregard of the fact there is criminal behavior.”
Calhoun rolled her eyes several times while the prosecutor was talking about her. At one point, her attorney told the seated Calhoun to turn around and face the judge.
While Calhoun has been ordered to have no contact with Spitzauer, and vice versa, she reportedly has given him money to spend in jail.
She also revealed Thursday that Spitzauer “calls and calls and calls and calls, and sends letters.” She said he called her twice the morning before her hearing, but she did not answer.
“That’s helpful for the court to know,” said Judge Mendoza.
The judge said he believes Calhoun has no respect for the law or the court’s orders.
“Ms. Calhoun, as I indicated to you, I don’t think you’re an evil person by any stretch of the imagination. But I do believe that you don’t comprehend how much your actions — when you disregard what the law is — how that affects the rest of us, the public, the community,” said Mendoza.
“And if you decide to do that in the future, you will find yourself again in front of me because, during that one year period of time after you are released, if there is a violation you’re going to come back in front of me and I will have to decide whether or not to send you to jail for a year.”