by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:
DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - A DeKalb County jury is deciding the fate of three men indicted for racketeering, after a Channel 2 Action News investigation. Channel 2 first exposed a group of so-called "sovereign citizens" in 2010, for signing fake deeds to themselves and then moving into foreclosed homes.
"If I deprive anybody of their property or life, liberty ... I have a right to go to jail. Send me on my way," Eliyshuwa Yisrael testified Wednesday.
Yisrael is acting as his own attorney in the case, which initially included 11 other defendants. Several have already pleaded guilty and were called as witnesses.
Jermaine Gibson and Richard Jenkins are also on trial. Prosecutors allege the three remaining defendants were the ringleaders of the scheme.
Another defendant, Joseph Dion Lawler, has not been seen since the group was indicted. Prosecutors have a signed warrant for his arrest.
From the stand, Yisrael didn't deny taking the properties, including a $13 million shopping center in Buckhead, but said he didn't harm anyone in the process.
"I haven't had anyone come and testify that I have taken their property, not one human being," said Yisrael, "The indictment says there are victims, where are these victims?"
As a sovereign citizen, he tried to convince the jury the banks, which were the documented owners of the properties, should not have been allowed to own them in the first place.
"Only people can enter into a contract, not corporations, because a corporation cannot sign or give verbal instructions," Yisrael told the jury.
Prosecutors argued the group targeted bank-owned homes because they were vacant and the men could move right in. A Channel 2 Action News investigation in 2010 tied the men to 18 different properties across eight Georgia counties.
"He told me he owned the property and he was going to take possession and he told me in the same conversation that somehow he was going to make sure I lost my real estate license," testified Realtor Lynn Erdely.
"Mr. Jenkins called me and said he had seen my notes at the house and he was going to have me arrested for trespassing on his property," said Realtor Janice Morris, of Waynesboro.
Jenkins also represented himself and questioned co-defendants who had already pleaded guilty. Kenith Rey told the jury he paid Jenkins and Yisrael to help him take over a $3 million home in Sandy Springs.
"Yisrael was a friend of mine and we traded money, and you got money from me, so don't play games," Rey answered Jenkins on cross examination.
Yisrael told Rey, "I never received any money from you."
"You have received money from me, that's a lie," Rey replied.
Jermaine Gibson elected not to testify. His defense attorney, Adeline Alexander, told jurors racketeering charges were designed for mafia-style cases, and were too serious for this case.
"This case breaks my heart a little bit. These aren't the gentlemen, this isn't the crime, this isn't the offense that RICO was designed to punish," said Alexander.
The jury will resume deliberations Thursday morning.
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