Ex-minister and dentist found dead in Goose Creek apartment | News
GOOSE CREEK — A Mount Pleasant dentist and her religious leader were found dead this week in an apartment filled with anti-government and religious literature.
Goose Creek Police Chief LJ Roscoe said Judy Villanyi, owner of Life Smiles Dentistry, and James Button were found dead on the morning of February 2 after hanging themselves in a Goose Creek apartment in suicides apparent.
Villanyi was tipped off last month that she was the target of a federal tax evasion investigation, Roscoe said, and federal investigators were hoping to turn the 52-year-old dentist into a state witness against Button.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek Shoemake said Feb. 5 he could not comment on the investigation.
Goose Creek Police’s inquest into the deaths found that Button, 63, had served as Villanyi’s religious leader since they first met in the mid-2000s, according to Roscoe.
Other followers of Button’s religion may have fallen, Roscoe said, but Villanyi remained in his thrall, regularly supplying money to Button through “the Church of Charleston”.
Investigators believe Villanyi and Button were also adherents of the Sovereign Citizen Movement, an extremist group identified by the FBI as a domestic terrorist threat.
“It’s very weird,” Roscoe said.
Police first learned of the deaths after the Summerville Police Department received a typed letter from Villanyi saying her body could be found in the apartment.
The residence has an address in Summerville but is under the jurisdiction of Goose Creek Police, Roscoe said.
Goose Creek Police arrived at the apartment shortly before 10.30am on February 2. Management confirmed that Villanyi was on the lease and allowed the agents entry.
Police found the bodies of Button and Villanyi inside the apartment. They also found anti-government literature and “cult-like” manuals in the home, including religious regulations, Roscoe said.
Roscoe, who retired from Atlanta-area law enforcement after a nearly 30-year career, said she is familiar with the Sovereign Citizen Movement, but adherents are not known to be particularly religious.
Sovereign citizens are anti-government extremists who believe they are separate, or “sovereign,” from the United States, and therefore answerable to no government authority, according to the FBI.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that tracks extremist groups, followers believe the government has pledged its citizens as collateral to foreign investors, essentially enslaving all Americans.
Some adherents believe that through various financial schemes, many of which are fraudulent, citizens can discharge their debts or tap into vast wealth secretly held by the government in their name.
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Villanyi has previously been convicted in the U.S. District Court in South Carolina of bank fraud for orchestrating such a scheme.
Federal authorities said the dentist wrote an NSF check for $140,000 in 2012 to honor a mortgage with Bank of America. On the check, she wrote: “Not for deposit,” “EFT only,” and “For debt relief,” according to court records.
Villanyi also allegedly filed ‘false and frivolous’ tax returns for several years from 2010, claiming she was entitled to millions of dollars in tax refunds, despite earning more than $200,000 a year. through his dental office.
Villanyi pleaded guilty in August 2017 to obstructing the tax code and was sentenced to five months in prison, court records show. She was also ordered to pay a $25,000 fine and nearly $56,000 in restitution.
A Columbia couple was convicted in 2015 of carrying out a similar bank fraud scheme involving bad checks.
The United States Attorney’s Office said in a press release about the case that sovereign citizens’ groups wrongly teach that if a creditor agrees to an instrument labeled “EFT only for debt settlement” , the debt is paid whether the money changes hands or not.
In a motion for conviction, Villanyi’s defense attorney asked for leniency, arguing that his client was repentant and had given up her “erroneous beliefs as a tax protester.”
But Roscoe said the IRS agent who investigated the case told him that Villanyi continued to email Button in jail.
From communications, the officer told Roscoe he was “very clear of the strong hold he had on her,” according to the police chief.
Roscoe said investigators learned from speaking to Button’s children that he was a former cabinet minister who had been drawn into the Sovereign Citizen Movement while working as a day trader.
Villanyi’s mother told investigators that Button may have had as many as seven or eight followers many years ago, but they don’t know if anyone other than Villanyi followed his religious teachings at the time. of his death.
“Did he just fizzle a little?” said Roscoe. “We do not know.”
Investigators learned that Villanyi provided money to Button through “Charleston Church,” which appeared to exist only as a post office box, Roscoe said.
Roscoe said Life Smiles Dentistry employed a CPA who handled the company’s taxes.
The CPA has a copy of Villanyi’s will, said Roscoe, who entrusted his business to his dental hygienist, Roscoe said.
Villanyi earned her general dentistry license in 1994, according to state records.