June 16, 2010

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.

First there was the case of the California woman squatting in a nice log home in Lolo, south of Missoula:

A California woman who allegedly moved into an unoccupied Lolo home earlier this month and claimed the digs as her own may have been influenced by websites promoting the extremist "sovereign citizens" movement.

Jackiya Dionea Ford, 37, allegedly moved into a Lolo home while it was for sale, then changed the locks and filed a fraudulent lawsuit against the home's builder and rightful owner, Bob Paffhausen.

Deputy Missoula County Attorney Dori Brownlow is prosecuting the case, and said numerous websites provide instructions on how to file such erroneous paperwork, which can clog up the court system if processed.

"There is lots of information online and I assume that's where it's all coming from as a central source," Brownlow said.

... The woman first came onto the radar of local law enforcement when she became disorderly in the Missoula County Attorney's Office and had to be removed. She filed "bogus" lawsuits against several sheriff's deputies, said Lt. Rich Maricelli, and demanded settlements be paid in gold and silver.

"It's been an absolute nightmare," Maricelli said.

Then Ford filed suit against Paffhausen, the builder, who told authorities that the woman showed up to view his house as a prospective buyer. After their initial meeting, Ford delivered paperwork claiming ownership of the house and all the land in a 20-mile radius around it. She offered to drop the lawsuit if Paffhausen paid her $900,000 in pure silver and gold.

On April 14, as the builder worked with Brownlow to remedy the situation, he received a call from NorthWestern Energy saying someone had reported a natural gas leak at the house. Paffhausen went to the house, where he found the locks and garage door codes had been changed and the windows covered up with paper.

Various notices were also posted on the doors saying no one should enter the house without consent of the "authority of our Lord and Savior Yahushua," who had given the house to Ford as a believer.

Looking through an opening in the kitchen window, Paffhausen could see various personal belongings, including a rifle case leaning against the living room wall. Paffhausen called authorities, and as sheriff's deputies were inspecting the home Ford came speeding down the street and pulled into the driveway.

Ford told the deputies that she was a "sovereign citizen of the republic of America" and therefore officials had no authority over her. She said she owned the whole mountainside and that they were on private property.

At the time of her arrest, she had been living in the house about two weeks.

Then came the case of Brent Arthur Wilson, a Patriot drifter who took up residence in a fancy log house near Polson:

His alleged scheme began unraveling late last summer when Polson Realtor Ed McCurdy of Prudential Montana discovered “for sale” signs missing on a log home northwest of Polson he’d been hired to market.

McCurdy’s keys no longer fit the locks, and a piece of paper taped inside a window suggested the home, which was in foreclosure, was now in the possession of someone else.

McCurdy launched his own investigation, and discovered bizarre paperwork had been filed on the home with the county by a Brent Arthur Wilson. It suggested God had transferred title on the home to Wilson, and the legal description of the property location included references to “the third planet from the sun.”

McCurdy also uncovered evidence that Wilson had filed similar paperwork on other area homes, including one Wilson was allegedly living in, and another he had allegedly installed a tenant in.

After Thursday’s court appearance, Cole-Hodgkinson said she would likely charge Wilson in connection with “at least two, and possibly more” home thefts in addition to the three felonies and two misdemeanors he faces on the one house.

“So far we’ve confined everything to the Jette house,” she said, indicating the home McCurdy had listed. “There are other charges, and there are other houses. There will likely be multiple charges per house.”

“It’s very complicated,” Cole-Hodgkinson added, but said it’s important Wilson be able to see and understand all the charges that can, and now will, be brought against him.

Wilson has since accrued some national attention, particularly since he has subsequently engaged in bizarre, classic "Freeman" style behavior in the courtroom, including such antics as refusing to call the judge by anything other than her first name.

There is, of course, a certain amusement value to these antics, because all these poor saps eventually wind up spending jail time because they've succumbed to these belief systems. But sometimes -- as we saw with Jerry Kane and his 16-year-old son -- the outcome is not very amusing at all.

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