Updated:ATLANTA,None - A DeKalb County grand jury has indicted 12 people for racketeering and other crimes, after a Channel 2 Action News investigation exposed efforts to steal houses across metro Atlanta.
Sovereign Citizens Indicted In Housing Scheme
Nine members of that group are self-proclaimed sovereign citizens, who claim to be immune from Georgia's laws.
"It's the criminal mindset that says 'The rules don't apply to me.' Well guess what? Yes. They do," said Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney John Melvin.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer spent months tracking fraudulent deeds, and shared her research with police, prosecutors and the FBI.
In a series of stories last summer, she linked the group to 18 properties in eight metro counties and confronted several of the members.
Gregory and Linda Ross told Fleischer they owned a property on South Goddard Road in Lithonia, and accused her of trespassing on their "sovereign land."
Days later, they were arrested along with Jermaine Gibson, when police raided the home.
All three are now indicted.
So are Richard Jenkins, accused of signing six deeds in the Augusta area; Joseph Lawler, for signing a deed on a million dollar home on Windsor Parkway; Kenith Rey, accused of stealing a $2 million home in Sandy Springs; and Eliyshuwa Yisrael, accused of stealing several properties including a $13 million Buckhead shopping center and then trying to collect rent from the tenants.
Corey Freeman is also indicted for racketeering. Last summer, he agreed to sit down with Fleischer for an interview, regarding his plan to place poor families into the homes he took.
"So you don't feel like you're stealing from these banks?" Fleischer asked.
Freeman said, "You can't steal from someone that does not own something really, so I would definitely say no."
Melvin sees it differently.
"It is a unique scheme, but at the end of the day it's not that brilliant because you're providing me the paper that I'm going to hang you with," said Melvin.
The group is accused of targeting foreclosed and empty properties, then signing deeds from themselves to themselves.
In Henry County they used a deed to get the locks changed, police said.
In Fulton County, authorities said, they got the power turned on.
And police said that in DeKalb, they moved in rooms full of furniture.
"The ones that have been most involved and the ones that have criminal histories of course will be dealt with a little more significantly," said Melvin.
The indictments also include Wyllisa Lawrence, who witnessed some of the documents and Arthur Sykes Jr. and Jonas Francois, who notarized some of them.
"I'm a notary. I don't even know who those people are," said Francois.
Thirty-five-year-old David Bryant Graham of Norcross is also accused of sending communications on behalf of the other defendants.
Melvin said crimes together in a racketeering indictment increases the severity of the case and will give the jury a better picture of the scheme.
He said crimes by sovereign citizens are on the rise in the metro area.
"We do not prosecute people for belief systems no matter how righteous or bizarre they are. We prosecute people for committing crimes, and these people committed crimes of burglary mortgage fraud, false statements," said Melvin.
He says FBI, GBI, and local police in several metro counties worked together on this case.
They also launched a statewide effort to teach officers that questionable paperwork isn't always a civil matter, and it can be considered a crime.