Anti-Government Sovereign Citizens Taking Foreclosed Homes Using Phony Deeds, Authorities Say

ePhoto: Anti-Government Sovereign Citizens Taking Foreclosed Homes Using Phony Deeds, Authorities Say: Georgia Officials, FBI Are Pursuing Anti-Government Citizens Squatting in Bank-Owned Homes

Authorities in Georgia are joining forces to hunt down a burgeoning group of squatters who use anti-government ideology to commandeer bank-owned upscale homes with phony deeds and bogus paperwork.

Many are operating as so-called sovereign citizens -- radical-right conservatives who believe that they are exempt from government requirement such as taxes and driver's licenses.

Officials in DeKalb County have arrested five people they described as sovereign citizens, alleging they moved into foreclosed homes and filed phony quit-claim deeds in court, then posted them in the properties' windows as "proof" of their ownership. They are on the hunt for two more.

DeKalb Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney John Melvin said he believes the seven they've identified are connected with 17 seized properties across the state that were worth about $10 million. One property, he said, was a strip mall where the suspects charged rent.

"It's amazing that these groups of citizens who like to proclaim they're Robin Hood only choose million-dollar homes," he said. "Shocking."

They have been charged with a variety of RICO crimes as well as theft and mortgage fraud.

Last week, sheriff's deputies in nearby Rockdale County busted a husband and wife team who were allegedly pulling the scam in a house they once used to own, ABC's Atlanta affiliate WSB reported.

Melvin couldn't comment on whether those two are connected to the group he's got behind bars, citing the ongoing investigation. He also couldn't confirm whether more suspects would be identified and arrested, but said "it would not surprise me."

The squatters operate either as full-fledged members of the sovereign citizens movement or they are part of a growing number of people who use the movement's ideology to worm their way out of a bad financial situation.

Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, said the last few years have seen a rise in what he called "dabblers" in the sovereign citizens movement, people he said who would "never hurt a fly" but who are looking for a way out of their economic desperation.

"It's a new trend that we've seen in just the last couple of years. It seems to be catching on, more or less like wildfire," he said. "The economy, I think, is very clearly driving a large number of people who are desperate into this movement who are looking for answers."

Others, he said, are just greedy opportunists who don't want to pay their taxes or child support.

But even just the association with the sovereign citizen movement is enough to put law enforcement officials on edge.

Sovereign Citizens From True Believers to Economic Opportunists

Atlanta FBI Special Agent Stephen Emmett, whose office has been aiding local authorities in tracking such crimes, said there is a very real threat to law enforcement officers who approach these residents because they often have a deep-seated hatred for anything government.

Though the FBI's domestic terrorism squad is the branch designed to keep tabs on the sovereign citizens, they really are considered anti-government, Emmett said. But, he quickly noted, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph were considered simply anti-government before they set off deadly explosives.

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