Antigovernment “sovereign citizens” attempting to fraudulently gain possession of abandoned houses is nothing new. But taking over a restaurant? Well, that’s new to the menu of tactics.
Zachariah Latnie, 22, did just that, claiming he owned the former Hibachi X restaurant in Colonie, N.Y., near the state’s capital, while admitting he never purchased the building.
In 2015, police charged Latnie with trespassing, but he returned to the restaurant again, and was arrested again.
Then, following the same bogus game plan used by most sovereign citizens and Moorish Nationals, Latnie filed a blizzard of phony paperwork at the Albany County clerk’s office. He also tacked a notice on the abandoned restaurant, claiming he owned it through “adverse possession.”
Then he tried to sell the property he didn’t own.
That’s when police stepped in, charging him with 21 criminal charges, including attempted grand larceny, burglary, possessing burglar's tools, conspiracy, tampering with public records, filing false deeds and falsifying business records. His brother Delyn Latnie and sister, Kazia, also were charged. Their trials are pending.
Zachariah Latnie was convicted of 15 crimes last month by a jury in an Albany County courtroom, the Albany Times-Union reported. The jury acquitted him on six counts related to tampering with public records and false filings. He will be sentenced next month.
While testifying in his own defense, Latnie was asked by an assistant prosecutor how he possibly could think he had a legal interest in the building.
“There are a number of ways legal interest may be acquired or derived from,” he responded. “Any legal interest? That's a swooping term. I don't know how he was able to apply that to my specific process."
Despite acknowledging he was a follower of sovereign citizen ideology, Latnie insisted he wasn’t part of the overall movement, whose adherents hold truly bizarre, complex antigovernment beliefs.
Latnie also said he followed the advice of Tex Mason, a self-proclaimed "Moorish national" and author of Home 4 Free, which instructs people on “how to claim abandoned houses.” The book sells for $450.