C&L readers will remember the case of Jerry Kane, the traveling "sovereign citizen" who, with his 16-year-old son in tow, toured the country giving seminars on how to take advantage of the current foreclosure crisis by the usual fantasy-based schemes of Patriot-movement pseudo-legal "constitutionalism".
All that, of course, before he and the boy opened fire on two police officers in West Memphis, Arkansas, after which they were mowed down themselves in a blizzard of police bullets in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
If you watch the video, and the others Kane left behind, you'll see that the scheme he was selling entailed creating "strawman" companies that would enable a "sovereign citizen" to then claim ownership, by virtue of their sovereignty (often defined in divine terms), of whatever properties they set their sights upon. As one account noted:
Seminars of this type usually teach that each person has a real self and a “corporate self” that is a fabrication of the government, and that banks cannot legitimately lend money that belongs to their depositors.
“It’s mumbo jumbo; it’s magic words; it’s abracadabra,” Ms. MacNab said.
You'll note also that Kane had been promoting this scheme in the Seattle area:
Jim Jenkins, a former mortgage broker in Seattle who attended one of Mr. Kane’s seminars in April, said that Mr. Kane had been largely congenial, but that his anger had flared when he recalled a traffic stop earlier that month in New Mexico. Mr. Kane was arrested and jailed on charges of driving while his license was suspended or revoked and concealing his identity.
Well, surprise, surprise: Someone operating under a scheme awfully similar to the one Kane was promoting recently popped up in the news in Seattle. My old friend Danny Westneat at the Seattle Times has the story, involving a woman who appears to have taken up residence in a vacant $5 million mansion in Kirkland, across the lake from Seattle:
That's odd, neighbors thought. The West of Market neighborhood in Kirkland is friendly, easygoing. So one of them called the real-estate agent to ask what was up.
What he said floored them. The house is still for sale for $3.3 million. Whoever is living there had broken in. They're squatters.
"It's blown everybody away around here," said another neighbor, who asked me not to print her name.
"It takes some real guts to just waltz into a house like that, I'll give them that."
We were standing across the street from the six-bedroom, six-and-a-half bath house, dubbed in the ads as "Mediterranean Natural." With its rock exterior and terraces, it looks like a miniature hotel.
"Elevator to the theater, wine cellar & tasting room, game room, recreation room, nanny's quarters, den/library, culinary artist's kitchen, bonus room and the lavish master suite & bath," reads a listing from 2008, when the house was for sale for $5.8 million.
Of particular note was the means by which the squatter has been able to forestall being carted out as a trespasser:
A form posted on the door of the house by its new "tenants" says "all rights, interest and title in said property" has been transferred to something called the "Priority Rose Children's Outreach" in Bothell.
That's a charity that was incorporated only two weeks ago, according to the state Secretary of State's Office. Its purpose is listed as "spiritual training for adults and children in a religious safe environment for the development of all mankind."
That sounds nice. But the phone number for the charity is also the number for a Bothell company called NW Note Elimination that specializes in "eliminating mortgages." It does this by finding flaws with loans or titles and exploiting them to stake outright claims to property.
One of its strategies, according to a primer it posted on Craigslist, is to create a land trust and claim title to a piece of property, then try to challenge the existing mortgages as flawed in hopes the banks eventually will just go away.
"The idea is that with this economy, people are looking for any kind of real-estate loophole they can find," said Sgt. Robert Saloum of the Kirkland Police.
But squatting? In somebody else's home?
I called the charity to ask how moving into a house you don't own promotes the religious and spiritual development of all mankind. Nobody called me back.
Saloum said when Kirkland police went to the house, the woman who answered the door showed a form claiming she owned the house.
"It's up to a court to sort that out," he said.
This is hardly the first time this has cropped up. There have been scattered reports of similar schemes taking place in southern California, where the vacant foreclosures are as common as sagebrush. Here in the Northwest, the scheme has also cropped up in Montana -- unsurprisingly, since we're talking about the Home of the Freemen here.
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