by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:
ATLANTA - Georgia's House of Representatives has unanimously passed a bill cracking down on people who steal houses after a Channel 2 Action News investigation exposed holes in the existing law.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer approached Kirby and co-sponsor Rep. Ed Lindsey, R-Atlanta, last month when a group of men whose scheme she had already exposed got out of jail and used fake deeds to steal even more houses.
"In order to successfully prosecute the sovereign citizens, we've had to cobble together legal theories, which they're legitimate, but this would be so much better," Cobb County prosecutor John Melvin said of the new bill while it was in committee.
Melvin prosecuted the case against a group Fleischer investigated back in 2010. He indicted a dozen people for racketeering after Channel 2 Action News found fake deeds for 18 properties in eight counties.
Several members of the group pleaded guilty, but in 2012 a few were able to convince a jury that they didn't really steal anything.
After their acquittal
"What we'd like to do is add language into the statute that puts some teeth into it," said Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter, who also spoke on behalf of the bill.
House Bill 985 would protect all Georgia homeowners from those who file fake deeds. The bill also makes filing, signing or witnessing those deeds a felony.
"We saw the problems that the courts were having with this and have taken this action to fix it," said Kirby, who hopes it will stop the fraud or at least make the criminals easier to convict.
The bill has been lauded by Georgia's banking industry since foreclosures and other empty homes have been a favorite target for the fraudsters, who often break in and then live in the homes.
The bill still has to go through Georgia's Senate before it can become law. Kirby says he's already spoken with a number of senators who support it.