A DeKalb County grand jury has indicted 12 so-called “sovereign citizens” for allegedly stealing high-priced houses in DeKalb and Gwinnett counties and a Buckhead strip mall.
Indicted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations-Acquiring Property through a Pattern of Racketeering (RICO) Act, the individuals are accused of illegally acquiring 18 properties in eight counties, including DeKalb, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Newton, Richmond and Spaulding.
Their pattern of racketeering activity ran from January to July 31 of last year.
According to the indictment, the “sovereign citizens” “broke into vacant homes, and either signed or notarized deeds for themselves and each other, which purported to convey property to them and did file these deeds with the Clerk of Courts.”
Whenever the suspects were opposed by property owners, banks or law enforcement, they would “legally harass” the person, said DeKalb Deputy Chief Assistant Attorney John Melvin.
The problem was discovered by county marshals. Melvin said the “marshals department had started to run into the sovereign citizens who had been squatting.” The suspects would file quit claim deeds on properties in foreclosure creating a “cloud on the title,” he said.
“People would have to expend money to clear the cloud,” Melvin said.
The “sovereign citizens” were loosely organized. Several were living together in a house at 7301 South Goddard Road in Lithonia. Others would use the address of the house for mail.
In one case, Eliyshuwa Shaphat Yisrael allegedly filed a quit claim deed on a property and another suspect wrote an eviction notice to the tenant living in the house. For the strip mall at 2140 Peachtree Road in Atlanta, a suspect tried to collect rent from the store owners.
After illegally acquiring the property at 2735 Sudbury Trace in Norcross, the suspects allegedly wrote the bank giving it the option to buy them out.
On June 16, 2010, Joseph Dion Lawler is accused of calling the listing agent for 1539 Windsor Parkway and demanding the security system in the house be turned off and the realty signs be taken down, according to the indictment.
The next day, Lawler threatened to file liens against the agent’s personal property if she did not comply with those demands.
Yisrael and Corey Bernard Freeman are in the DeKalb County jail. Gregory Osbourne Ross, Linda Ross and Richard Terence Jenkins are out on bond.
Arrest warrants have been issued for Jonas Francois, Jermaine Eric Gibson, Davis B. Graham, Joseph Dion Lawler, Wylissa Yvette Lawrence, Kenith Benaiah Rey and Arthur Sykes Jr.
According to the website of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, sovereign citizens are “anti-government extremists” who believe “they don’t have to answer to any government authority, including courts, taxing entities, motor vehicle departments, or law enforcement.”