A 40-year-old Georgia man who authorities say was part of a ring of antigovernment “sovereign citizens” squatting in high-end homes near Atlanta, claiming them as their own, was sentenced to six years in federal prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Jermaine Eric Gibson, of Atlanta, was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Atlanta. Federal prosecutors requested a six-year sentence “to promote Gibson’s respect for the law.”
“Gibson declared that the laws do not apply to him,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracia M. King said in a sentencing memorandum. “Perhaps, this is why Gibson, a convicted felon, boldly possessed a firearm and did not hesitate to make it known to others that he possessed a firearm.”
According to court documents and trial testimony, Gibson moved into a foreclosed home in Lithonia, Ga., an upscale, gated Atlanta suburb in March 2013. He quickly declared he owned the house, valued somewhere between $300,000 and $600,000, by filing paperwork with DeKalb County officials claiming he had deeded the home to himself.
After moving into the residence, authorities say, Gibson changed the locks on the doors and posted a warning to real estate agents to stay off the property. The home, however, was under contract to be sold, and Gibson was not the buyer.
Meanwhile, when the homebuyer contacted local police, she was told it was a civil matter and police wouldn’t be involved. The homebuyer then spoke to Gibson, telling him the house sale would be closing soon and asked him to leave. Gibson told the homebuyer that someone lied to her because she would not be moving into that home.
In further efforts to establish his “right” to the residence, court documents say, Gibson “taped to the windows fraudulent Quiet [sic] Claim Deeds and other sovereign citizen documents” declaring he “was a Foreign Official and that the Property was a Foreign Embassy.”
Despite his efforts, the sale closed in April 2013, but the new buyer couldn’t move in because Gibson still remained in the home, illegally possessing firearms despite his felony record. Eventually, the mortgage lender and the homeowner joined together to file paperwork in DeKalb County to have Gibson evicted.
In the meantime, the FBI had begun a racketeering investigation into a dozen sovereign citizens, including Gibson, who had begun illegally occupying homes in eight Georgia counties, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2012.
On May 2, 2013, police obtained an arrest warrant after several people claimed to have seen long-barrel guns on the properties. Police served a search warrant at the home Gibson was illegally occupying and found a .38 caliber revolver in Gibson’s bed. It remains unclear if long guns were ever found on the premises.
Throughout the trial, Gibson proclaimed his innocence and protested the validity of the court. A day before his trial began, he filed a rambling 17-page, typed-written “affidavit of truth” in which he described himself as a “living, breathing, flesh-and-blood man living under the laws of the God, Father and Creator of the boundless universe...” He also claimed that the U.S. courts had no jurisdiction over him “because it is not really a court as per Article III of Constitution of the United States, but rather a tribunal operated as a private corporation...”
Gibson also claimed the criminal charges against him were really commercial charges “as defined in the code of federal regulations 27 CFR 72.11.” “My attorney and the Court both do not seem to understand this regulation and, as such, my attorney is incompetent to defend [me],” Gibson said.
Authorities are using the case to again warn that sovereign citizens –– considered a leading domestic terrorism threat by the FBI –– will be prosecuted for breaking the law, just like everyone else.
“Sovereign citizens do not believe that laws apply to them except when it is to their benefit,” said Sally Quillian Yates, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. “This conviction demonstrates that our laws do apply to everyone. If you violate the law, you will be prosecuted.”
J. Britt Johnson, who supervises the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office, echoed those sentiments. “Individuals and even groups who feel that our laws don’t apply to them can pose a more significant risk to law enforcement, particularly when they illegally arm themselves," Johnson said. “The conviction in federal court of Mr. Gibson, a self-described sovereign citizen, is a clear reminder that he is not above the law.”