Two Charged in New Cases of Alleged ‘Sovereign’ House Theft in Georgia

Buying a home can cause big headaches and quickly empty your wallet. Just ask an estimated 20 buyers in Atlanta who purchased vacant homes from two antigovernment “sovereign citizens” who are now accused of selling residences they didn’t own.

Edgar Lee Rodgers and Diana Rowe were arrested last week on charges of racketeering and theft-by-deception charges, authorities say.

The alleged house-stealing, still being investigated by the Atlanta Police Department’s fraud unit, is the latest wrinkle in the sovereign-citizen movement, with similar cases cropping up earlier in Georgia and a few other states as well. The government-hating sovereign citizens think most criminal and tax laws don’t apply to them and they can pretty much do whatever they want — apparently including squatting in and selling vacant houses. The FBI recently identified sovereign citizens as a significant “domestic terrorist” threat.

In Atlanta, Rowe and Rodgers, who called himself “Immanuel Hood,” are accused of locating vacant homes, then convincing unsuspecting buyers looking for hot deals to use the state’s adverse possession law to take over vacant homes.

WXIA-TV reported last week that at least 20 people fell for the scheme, losing not only “down payments” ranging from $1,000 to $9,000, but, in some instances, the costs of initial repairs they undertook on houses they thought they were buying.

Many of the homes involved were owned by an international missionary organization, according to various media reports.

The investigation began when a property owner discovered someone living in one of his vacant homes and notified police, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Friday. The state’s adverse possession law allows a person living in a home for 20 years or more to take legal possession with the owner’s knowledge and permission, the newspaper reported.

In one case, Rodgers is accused of telling a buyer to shell out $4,500, which he did outside the courthouse where the legal papers were to be filed. But when the buyer asked for a receipt, Rodgers allegedly sped away.

In another case, a man paid Rodgers $1,000 and promised another $3,000 when he got the warranty deed. But the deed never showed up, and when that buyer went to the courthouse asking for it, he was told that he wasn’t the legal owner and had no right to the document.

Atlanta Police Sgt. Paul Cooper of the department’s Major Fraud Unit said many of the buyers were desperate to become homeowners and were taken in by the “very convincing, consummate con man,” WXIA reported.

“The irony of it is that while they were out convincing people to buy homes using adverse possession, they both paid a regular mortgage,” Cooper told the Atlanta newspaper.