Aiming squarely at the antigovernment “sovereign citizens” movement, Georgia’s governor on Monday signed a law that will make it a felony to file fraudulent liens against public officials or employees, a tactic known as “paper terrorism.”
Sovereign citizens, extremists who believe they don’t have to obey most laws or pay taxes and have been known to react murderously to perceived incursions on their freedom, have wreaked havoc in Georgia over the past several years.
In one of the first cases of its kind, 12 sovereigns in North Georgia were charged last March with stealing properties worth millions of dollars, including mansions and a strip mall in Atlanta’s wealthy Buckhead neighborhood. They are being prosecuted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, a federal law originally drafted to fight organized crime but now sometimes applied to other forms of criminal enterprise.
The suspects allegedly fabricated quitclaim deeds transferring ownership of the properties to themselves and filed the phony paperwork with the courts. When government officials tried to have the documents removed, the sovereigns filed baseless property liens and lawsuits against them.
In a separate case, Tim Shaw, a police chief in Temple, Ga., was harassed, threatened, and hit with false liens totaling more than $800,000 by a sovereign citizen angered by a traffic citation. Shaw told Georgia’s WSBTV he was “elated” at the law’s passage.
Paper terrorism, as it has been nicknamed, is a common sovereign tactic in which perceived foes are attacked with fraudulent liens and bogus lawsuits, creating financial and legal problems that can take years and thousands of dollars to sort out, clogging the courts in the meantime.
Georgia’s new law, which goes into effect July 1, will make filing false liens against public officials a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. It was developed at the request of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and sponsored by state Rep. B.J. Pak, a Republican.
In its current form, it protects public officials only. But according to GBI spokesman John Bankhead, Pak – an accomplished attorney who was himself once the subject of a fraudulent lien – hopes next year to expand it to protect private citizens and to look into developing language that would allow recording clerks to reject such bogus documents in the first place.