‘Sovereigns’ Squat, Forge, Go to Jail and Get Shot
As the mid-Atlantic braced itself for the swarm of cicadas that blanketed some states this spring, the Southeast found itself dealing with a different, but equally unwelcome, horde of pests. So-called “sovereign citizens,” the antigovernment extremists who believe themselves immune to most federal laws, were out in full force this spring.
On May 6, a Memphis, Tenn., man pleaded guilty in federal court to three counts of theft of government property stemming from his illegal possession of properties owned by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Devitoe Farmer, 46, had filed bogus quitclaim deeds turning the properties over to himself, changed the locks, and placed tenants in at least two of them. When Memphis police officers asked for proof of ownership, he offered documents declaring himself a sovereign citizen. Farmer, who will be sentenced in August, faces up to 30 years in federal prison and fines of up to $750,000.
A Kennesaw, Ga., woman who flouted court orders restricting her to her home landed in jail on March 28 after being arrested at the Cobb County courthouse. Police took Susan Weidman, 51, into custody after she allegedly forged a federal judge’s signature on a bogus court order. Weidman, who had been under house arrest since her 2011 indictment on racketeering charges for allegedly seizing control of vacant, million-dollar suburban Atlanta homes, had filed numerous suits claiming that various county and state officials had mistreated her and her three alleged co-conspirators, all of whom are currently incarcerated. The order she allegedly forged granted a $65 million settlement for what she claimed was false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and other constitutional violations.
Meanwhile, an in-depth report in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune revealed a veritable plague of sovereign squatters who have been taking advantage of Florida’s protracted housing crisis. Claiming protection under a century-old “adverse possession” law that permits squatters to claim ownership of a property if they can prove they have lived onsite for seven years and paid property taxes, the squatters have crashed more than 800 foreclosed properties in Polk County alone, the article said. Often, they create false leases and other documents intended to confuse officials who question their presence. The Florida Legislature in 2011 passed a law intended to protect property owners, but according to the Herald-Tribune, it has had little effect. In one striking case, a squatter who moved with her horses into a multimillion-dollar South Florida ranch was still residing there on a claim of adverse possession as of the article’s March 24 publication date.
Sovereign activity wasn’t limited to squatting. On March 20, a federal jury in Knoxville, Tenn., found James Beavers, a Ph.D. engineering consultant and former faculty member at the University of Tennessee, and his wife, Beverly Beavers, a small business owner, guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States and illegally collecting nearly $600,000 in tax returns. The Beavers, who claimed in court to be “divine beneficiaries” of Saint Peter, will be sentenced in August. And on June 14, a Seattle federal judge handed Raymond Leo Jarlik Bell, 70, a veteran sovereign citizen who earned his living preparing bogus tax documents, a sentence of 97 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered him to pay $705,276.
Meanwhile, Florida officials determined that police were justified in using deadly force against Jeffrey A. Wright, a sovereign citizen and counterfeiter who was shot by Santa Rosa County sheriff’s deputies after a four-hour standoff on March 8. Wright, who barricaded himself inside his home and told police to “come and get me,” was shot and killed after aiming a pistol at SWAT members who came to arrest him.