(WMC TV) - A federal grand jury indicted a self-described "sovereign citizen" on charges he fudged property deeds to steal homes.
44-year-old Devitoe Farmer of Memphis faces three counts of theft of government property. U.S. Attorney Edward L. Stanton, III, said Farmer knowingly used fraudulent "quit-claim" deeds to essentially steal foreclosed properties assumed by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD).
"The defendant's scheme involved the theft of valuable real property from the United States government," said Stanton in a press release. "These charges make clear that we will seek to hold accountable those that would perpetrate such fraud on the United States."
If convicted, Farmer could be sentenced up to ten years in prison and fined $250,000. Walter Gunn, Stanton's spokesperson, said a judge released Farmer on a $5,000 bond despite Stanton's request for detention.
Farmer's indictment comes almost a year to the date since The Action News 5 Investigators caught him quit-claiming (or quick-claiming) the property deeds of seven Raleigh-Bartlett homes he does not own, according to Shelby County property records.
Law enforcement officials confirmed the FBI, Shelby County District Attorney General's Office and the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) were investigating Farmer for theft of the properties, six of which are foreclosures in the possession of either HUD or Freddie Mac (http://www.freddiemac.com/).
"I claim the unalienable (sic) rights that were guaranteed to us by the sovereign forefathers," said Farmer when confronted at one of the properties, 5181 Wax Wing Ln.
Farmer's beliefs are rooted in his claim that Congress passed a resolution in 1933 in the wake of The Great Depression, prohibiting entities, including government agencies and banks, from possessing property.
"No one that was an entity could own real property anymore," he said. "An entity is like a bank or organization. It's not a person like you or I that you can touch."
Tom Leatherwood, Shelby County's register of deeds, said Farmer quit-claimed the deeds by coming into the office and signing paperwork that shifted the properties from himself to himself, clouding the properties' titles.
"If someone files fraudulent documents, that does create a cloud over someone's title and creates a real headache for the legitimate property owner," Leatherwood said.
Leatherwood also produced an affidavit of truth sworn by Farmer, declaring himself to be "...a natural, freeborn Sovereign, without subjects. I am neither subject to any entity anywhere, nor is any entity subject to me."
"Not subject to the laws of the federal government or state government," said Leatherwood.
Leatherwood said Tennessee law allows Farmer and other "sovereigns" to cloud the deeds to foreclosed properties because it forbids county registers and their staffs from requiring proof of identification or proof of property ownership.
"The law's designed that way to keep bureaucrats from holding up folks just hours before closing on a home, based on a feeling that 'something's just not right,'" Leatherwood said.
When Action News 5 asked Leatherwood why not simply ask for a mortgage note, payoff notice or bill of sale, he answered, "It's not so hard to ask, but if someone's going to commit fraud, they could have a fraudulent bill of sale.
"We're just the teller at the front counter. We're not the ones to tackle them in the parking lot and throw them in jail. That's what we've got the courts for."
An affidavit of complaint indicated Shelby County sheriff's detectives arrested Farmer in April 2010 on a theft of property charge after he quit-claimed the deed, then moved into the house on 4171 Sevella Rd. in Raleigh-Bartlett. According to the affidavit, the Federal National Mortgage Association, or Fannie Mae, owned the property.
Records held at the Shelby County Criminal Court clerk's office showed Farmer bonded out on the charge. Prosecutors held the case to state in anticipation of a grand jury indictment.
Since that time, Farmer quit-claimed six more properties he does not own: 3386 Raleigh-Millington Rd., 4319 Elysian Dr., 4321 Grand Pyramid Dr., 4737 Grecco Dr., 3550 Merritt St., and the property on Wax Wing, where we found him living with his common-law wife and relatives.
Darnell Tate, an agent for the HUD-owned property on Raleigh-Millington Rd., told the Action News 5 Investigators when he checked on the property in February 2011, Farmer had a tenant moving into the home. Tate, who didn't identify the tenant, said the tenant stopped moving in and left when Tate explained that HUD owned the property, not Farmer.
"This is a multiple-jurisdiction case, with federal and local authorities involved," said Shelby County District Attorney General's Office spokesperson Vince Higgins. "These are complicated issues when you're talking about quit-claim property assessments."
"Theft is created when someone takes something from someone. I didn't take anything from someone," said Farmer. "So how are they going to have charges against me?"
Farmer's explanations mirror the teachings of Jerry and Joe Kane, the father and son sovereign citizens who murdered West Memphis, AR, Police Sgt. Brandon Paudert and Officer Bill Evans during a traffic stop in May 2010.
The Kanes were killed in a shoot-out with law enforcement officers minutes later in the parking lot of a West Memphis department store. (Please read Andy Wise's investigation of the Kanes' teachings re: mortgages and quit-claim deeds here: http://www.wmctv.com/Global/story.asp?S=12521732).
Farmer insisted that the Kanes were radical examples of sovereigns and that he does not espouse violence, despite a criminal history that includes a 1998 disorderly conduct charge and a 2007 order of protection.
"My mannerisms will never be that of an angry person or a person who has the demeanor to try to harm anyone," he said.
Last year, Leatherwood successfully lobbied Tennessee state legislators to make the altering of property deeds or quit-claiming of property by people who do not own the property a crime. But lawmakers watered it down to a Class A misdemeanor, a penalty of just 11 months and 29 days in jail.
"I would have preferred it being a felony simply because the (Shelby County district attorney general's office) said they would be more likely to prosecute," said Leatherwood.